Professor Paul Denny
Director of the Centre for Global Infectious Diseases at Durham University and Director of the NTD Network
By building an equal partnership of international scientists, new treatments and diagnostics may be found for leishmaniasis and Chagas disease.
Like many NTDs, leishmaniasis and Chagas disease — two lethal illnesses caused by parasites —affect the world’s poorest communities. These under-reported infections lack effective diagnostics and patient-friendly drugs, says Professor Paul Denny, Director of the Centre for Global Infectious Diseases at Durham University. Yet, if our global scientific community can tackle these challenges in equal partnerships, the potential breakthroughs could change the lives of millions of people.
The operative word here is ‘equal’, stresses Professor Denny, who also leads ‘A Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases’, known as the NTD Network; an international academic consortium whose mission is to help identify new treatments that target these parasites without harming patients.
“We have no interest in being ‘top down’,” he says. “We are an egalitarian community that can help fund and develop the work of scientists in affected countries. By combining this research excellence, we can find new ways to deal with these diseases.”
These new global collaborations haven’t just facilitated innovation; it’s also significantly contributed to worldwide trust and cooperation.
Building bridges and research potential
Professor Denny believes that these new global collaborations haven’t just facilitated innovation; it’s also significantly contributed to worldwide trust and cooperation. “It builds international bridges,” he says. “It’s a way to reveal potential, and better understand and address the problems we all want to solve.” This is vital; the unusual physiology of leishmaniasis and Chagas disease means that researchers need to deploy specialist laboratory techniques and novel approaches – hence the NTD Network’s teams include parasitologists, biochemists, chemists, biologists and immunologists.
Our ongoing challenge
Leishmaniasis occurs as a visceral disease (lethal if untreated, and current medicines – such as pentavalent antimonials – make many patients too ill to work); as cutaneous leishmaniasis (the most common form, often treated by injection into the painful skin sores); and as mucocutaneous sores attacking mucosal membranes. Scarring from these infections often destroys lives through social stigma.
Chagas disease is curable if treated early (within six weeks), although approximately one third of patients retain an asymptomatic, persistent chronic infection causing life-threatening damage to the heart and digestive system.
With cuts to budgets, and with the healthcare sector consumed by the global pandemic, Professor Denny is concerned about the future research into these diseases. “Investment in the next generation of early career researchers is vital to carry through NTD solutions to a successful conclusion for our shared global health security.”