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Tropical and Infectious Diseases

Tropical and Infectious Diseases mostly affect poor countries in Africa and are one of the major challenges of medical research. In Addition new, emerging and re-emerging infections are occurring all the time. Hence it seems that devastating infections will always be with us.  This department was formed with an aim of using primates in developing diagnostics, prophylactics and therapeutics against tropical diseases.The strengths of the department are: first, a team of highly trained and committed scientists and technologists who are applying modern research approaches; secondly, the availability of African Green monkeys and Baboons that have been developed as animal models for studying tropical and infectious diseases. These animals are ideal disease models since they are infected with most of the human infections and their response to the infections is similar to humans. Finally, the department bosats unique technologies that have been developed over the years. These include perfusion techniques for schistosome worm recovery in rodents and baboons, DNA vaccination by electroporation in baboons, transfection of P. knowlesi and long term in vitro culture of P. knowlesi.

 

 

 

 

PROGRAMMES
The department has five programmes SCHISTOSOMIASIS programme is focused on developing drugs and vaccines against the infection. This research is done in the baboon. MALARIA programme aims at developing the baboon as an animal which can be used in understanding malaria parasite biology and in the development of drugs and vaccines against malaria.  LEISHMANIASIS is a programme which has been using the African green monkey in developing drugs and vaccines against kalazaar. VIROLOGY programme focuses on HIV/AIDS and related viruses. TRYPANOSOMIASIS programme was recently started with an aim of developing diagnostics and therapies against Human African Trypanosomiasis.

RESEARCH ACTIVITIES
The department conducts basic research in drug and vaccine development against schistosomiasis (bilharzias), malaria, leishmaniasis (kalazar) and viral diseases. These are diseases of huge economic importance in Kenya and the developing world.  In Kenya, Bilharzia is a serious disease along the cost and lake Victoria basin. Malaria is basically found in the entire country while  kalazaar outbreaks are common in the drier parts
of the country.

The department is conducting research in the following areas:

  •     Radiation attenuated cercaria as a vaccine against schistosomiasis
  •     Development of new diagnostic techniques against schistosomiasis that can more accurately evaluate vaccination success, cure rates and infection levels in humans.
  •     Testing first generation and novel anti-schistosomal vaccine candidates generated using state-of-the art molecular approaches for their safety and efficacy in baboons
  •     Host responses in baboons infected with malaria parasites
  •     Developing the baboons as a model for malaria in pregnancy
  •     Developing attenuated malaria parasites using transfection technology
  •     Developing new therapies against malaria using traditional medicines approach
  •     Testing old and new drugs for their antimalarial activities
  •     Preclinical development of vaccine candidates against malaria
  •     Developing and testing drugs against leishmaniasis
  •     Development of the African green monkey as a model of both the cutaneous and the more severe viscera form of the disease


HAT Program

Human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), also known as sleeping sickness, is a vector-borne parasitic infection transmitted by the tsetse fly Glossina spp. Tsetse flies are found in 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa putting 70 million people at risk with an estimated 20,000 cases each year (WHO, 2014). The disease is caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei with two sub-species Trypanosoma brucei gambiense and Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense responsible for the chronic and acute forms of the disease respectively. The disease occurs in two stages namely the early haemolymphatic stage and the late meningoencephalitic stage which present with complex clinical signs making it difficult to diagnose and determine stage. Though recent efforts have made significant progress, HAT is still categorised as a neglected disease and characterised by a lack of simple-to-use diagnostic, staging and treatment tools. Lasting control of HAT can only be achieved by early case detection, accurate staging and appropriate treatment outlining the framework within which the HAT program operates. The program utilizes a three-pronged approach under the sections of diagnosis, staging and treatment. In our diagnostics-driven research, the use of nanotechnology has been employed to generate a T.brucei-specific nanobody. These nanobodies are generated from the smallest known functional fragment of naturally occurring single chain antibodies found in camels using molecular biology techniques. Work towards developing these nanobodies into viable diagnostic tools is currently on-going. Additionally, current testing of a new HAT diagnostic kit based on the loop mediated isothermal amplification polymerase chain reaction (LAMP-PCR) is in progress. The LAMP-PCR method is a sensitive and specific technique that eliminates the need for expensive machinery, offering a low cost alternative for disease diagnosis. The program has also been involved in the development of the African vervet monkey (Chlorocebus aethiops) as an experimental disease model for both the Gambian and Rhodesian forms of HAT. The vervet model has been shown to mirror the clinical and immunological profile of HAT in a reproducible manner.  Immune characterisation of the HAT vervet model has helped reveal several biomarkers with potential in staging and detection of treatment failure in the disease. Drug and therapy research has included, among others, toxicity studies for oral suramin, a HAT drug only previously available through intravenous preparations. Through these and other research initiatives, the program works to help achieve the institutional goal of utilizing innovative research and technology to improve human health.

STAFF

The department has five senior research scientists (PhD levels); 5 research scientists (BSc and MSc holders) and eight technologists (with  diploma or other professional qualification).  There are also scientists who are not employees but are affiliated to the department
as research associates and work closely with departmental staff.

FUNDING AND COLLABORATIONS

Support for the work carried out over the years has come from various collaborators and funding agencies including: The world Health Organization, European Union, National Institutes of Health USA and Universities in Europe and USA

TRAINING ACTIVITIES
There is a strong emphasis on training at all levels. At any one time senior scientists have students attached to their projects from local institutions who would be undertaking Phd, MSc or other academic programs. Staff of the department are also encouraged and supported to pursue higher studies in local and foreign universities and polytechnics.

PUBLICATIONS
Several publications from the department are published in international peer review journals. In addition, a number of papers and posters are presented at local and international meetings.


INQUIRIES:

Please direct your inquires to:
Dr. Hastings Ozwara,PH.D
Head of Department,
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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