EU funding leishmaniasis vaccine

An international consortium of seven partners from leishmaniasis-endemic countries is working towards the development of a vaccine against the illness.

Project RAPSODI is being funded under the European Union's 7th Framework Program for Research and Technological Development. The consortium is based on a public-private partnership and includes members from France, Tunisia, India, Spain and Peru.

The EU recently said that its support of RAPSODI is based in part on its belief that global warming has the potential to reintroduce vector-borne diseases to the continent. Outbreaks of leishmaniasis, which is carried by the bite of the female sandfly, have occurred across southern Europe. More than 700 indigenous cases were reported last year.

Leishmaniasis symptoms include breathing difficulty, skin sores, blocked nose, diarrhea, fever, vomiting and fatigue. Current treatment strategies include the use of various drugs. There is currently no effective single vaccine.

In areas where leishmaniasis is endemic, those infected obtain a lifelong immunity against reinfection with the same subspecies. This has lead researchers to believe that a vaccine is feasible. To that end, RAPSODI has identified the promastigote surface antigen protein as the active constituent eliciting protective immunity. Research has shown PSA to be present in all Leishmania species, which means that a vaccine utilizing it could potentially protect against all forms of the illness.