The Global Health Sciences program at the University of California, San Francisco has announced a two-year, $6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Instituto Carlos Slim de la Salud (Carlos Slim Health Institute) to accelerate the development of vaccines and treatments for neglected tropical diseases.
The funds will support the FIRST (Fighting Infections through Research, Science, and Technology) project, with a focus on Chagas disease, dengue, and onchocerciasis in Mesoamerica — the southern states of Mexico and all of Central America. The goals of the two-year project include a series of clinical trials with collaborators in Cameroon and the UK to determine whether Auranofin, an FDA-approved drug, can be repurposed to treat onchocerciasis; the development of low-cost diagnostic tools for the early detection of dengue as well as new tests to guide dengue vaccine development; the development of less toxic drugs for the treatment of Chagas disease; and the development of a cell phone app for crowdsourcing mosquito control.
Led by scientists at UCSF Global Sciences, the project also will involve researchers at the Blood Systems Research Institute, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the Sustainable Sciences Institute in San Francisco and Nicaragua, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Sao Paulo.
"In addition to developing tools, our goal is to strengthen local capacity in immunology, diagnostics, epidemiology, and informatics applied to infectious disease control and public health," said Eva Harris, professor of infectious diseases at UC Berkeley, who is leading a number of projects aimed at generating tools for faster diagnosis of dengue. "Our laboratory-based and informatics projects on dengue are being conducted in close collaboration with our long-term partners in Nicaragua, including training of Nicaraguan scientists in Managua and at UC Berkeley."