QIMR LogoResearchers have apparently discovered that an antibody, which seems to fuel the immune system may be applied to enhance health results in the developing world. By means of a mice model, scientists from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) have apparently crafted a more effectual treatment against visceral leishmaniasis (VL).

Visceral leishmaniasis (VL) is said to be a chronic disease caused by Leishmania infantum or Leishmania donovani, and seems to cause fever, anaemia, and swelling of the liver and spleen. The disease is believed to be spread by sandflies and arises in tropical and subtropical climates. Majority of the infections appear to take place in China, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Brazil and Sudan. Approximately 5,00,000 people are annually affected by VL and kills around 40,000.

Dr Ashraful Haque from QIMR, commented, “Currently, there is no vaccine against VL, and the only treatment is a long course of toxic drugs, against which the parasite may become resistant. These drugs often have severe, even life-threatening side-effects. The body’s immune system tries to fight VL however for various reasons it is unable to eliminate the infection. Treatment with this specific antibody stimulates the production of specific immune cells known as CD4+ effector T-cells. This boosts the immune response which helps clear the parasite.”

The scientist added, “By increasing the natural immune response, we can reduce the drug dose or shorten the time that patients had to take the toxic cocktail. A human version of this antibody already exists, and is being tested by pharmaceutical companies for its potential to treat cancer. Hopefully our research will further advocate its use to reduce the suffering of VL patients in some of the poorest communities in the world.”

This could be relevant to several other chronic infectious diseases as well, like tuberculosis. The researcher mentioned that their next aim is to trial this antibody in human tissue culture, to see whether the GITR antibody will clear the VL infection in human tissues.

The research is published online in the journal of Immunology.