UNCG Campus Weekly

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Gideon Wasserberg combats one of the world’s most common parasitic diseases

Portrait of Gideon WasserbergHuman leishmaniasis is one of the most common vector-borne diseases in the world, ranking alongside illnesses such as malaria and dengue fever. Caused by Leishmania protozoa and transmitted by phlebotomine sand flies. Approximately 350 million people worldwide are at risk for leishmaniasis. Most live in the poorest regions of the world.

Leishmaniasis is also a major cause of infectious disease incidence among military personnel deployed in endemic areas and among tourists and aid-workers.

An estimated 1 to 1.5 million cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis, characterized by ulcerating skin lesions, occur annually. The world also sees about 500,000 yearly cases of the deadly visceral leishmaniasis, which attacks vital organs.

With no vaccine to protect against Leishmania protozoa, the most effective way to combat the disease is to reduce exposure to sand fly bites.

UNCG’s Dr. Gideon Wasserberg studies the behavior of Phlebotomus papatasi, the sand fly that transmits old-world cutaneous leishmaniasis. The UNCG assistant professor of biology is seeking an effective yet environmentally-friendly way to prevent the disease. His plan? To develop a lure that will attract and kill egg-bearing sand flies searching for suitable breeding sites.

A $300,000 multidisciplinary research grant from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center supports Wasserberg’s collaborative work on this project with North Carolina State University entomologists Coby Schal, Loganathan Ponnusamy, and Charles Apperson.

Wasserberg and his colleagues are employing a four-step strategy to find the ideal chemical blend to use as a lure. If Wasserberg and his colleagues are successful, the resulting attract-and-kill commercial sand fly traps will help control Ph. papatasi sand fly populations, thereby reducing Cutaneous Leishmaniasis burden in endemic regions. Researchers could then apply Wasserberg’s approach to other sand fly species in other Leishmaniasis-endemic regions of the world, contributing to the worldwide prevention of this devastating disease.

Wasserberg wants to contribute toward North Carolina’s economic development by collaborating with local companies to produce his lures and traps. He also hopes his work will promote the health of American soldiers deployed in Leishmaniasis-endemic regions.

Article by Ananya Huria and Sangeetha Shivaji

Full story at Research site.