Researchers target insect vaccines to halt spread of infectious diseases

Researchers target insect vaccines to halt spread of infectious diseases

May 22, 2009
Fort Collins, Colo. -- Colorado State University (CSU) nailed a $100,000 grant to develop a vaccine system for sand flies to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like leishmaniasis.

The focus of the research is to target insect saliva as a way to stop the spread of infectious parasitic diseases.

The idea caught the interest of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and it recently announced it will dole out $100,000 to CSU's veterinary college for the first year.

The research, CSU reports, will focus on a compound found in the saliva of sand flies called maxadilan, which has been shown to amplify the impact of parasites that cause leishmaniasis.

Although maxadilan exists only in sand flies, the concept that saliva plays an important role in the spread of infectious diseases carried by insects is likely applicable to other diseases such as West Nile virus, plague, Dengue fever, malaria and other insect-borne diseases.

If CSU researchers can discover a way to turn off the effect of saliva in an infectious insect bite, the knowledge could be widely applied to help develop vaccines aimed at making animals and people resistant to maxadilan and other saliva-borne amplifiers.

Leishmaniasis has been reported in Florida and extreme south Texas. Dogs, foxes, coyotes, marsupials and rodents are considered reservoirs for the disease in endemic areas. Conditions can range from mild skin lesions to systemic fatal diseases. Leishmaniasis is zoonotic.

Grand Challenges Explorations is a five-year, $100 million initiative of the Gates Foundation to promote innovation in global health.