The Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has announced a $2.95 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create improved diagnostics for two parasitic diseases.
The funding will support efforts to improve diagnostics for lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis, neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes or black flies. In the case of the former, the bite deposits a worm-like parasite in the bloodstream that travels to the lymph system; adult worms can survive in humans for years and release larvae that are then passed on when a mosquito bites an infected person. Onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness, causes infection with the parasitic worm Onchocerca volvulus and is the second-most common cause of blindness due to infection after trachoma. The grant will support projects to find a marker in the blood that indicates when a person is capable of passing either of the infections to others.
The new project will be led by principal investigator Peter Fischer, co-leader of the Death to Onchocerciasis and Lymphatic Filariasis (DOLF) program, a Gates Foundation-funded initiative that supports global efforts to eliminate both diseases.
"The COVID pandemic has made it very apparent to everyone how important good diagnostic tests are for controlling infectious diseases," said Fischer. "Worldwide, enormous progress has been made in reducing the number of people at risk for both of these diseases, but once we have better diagnostic tests, we will be much better positioned to finish the job of eliminating these parasites as public health threats."