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June 17, 2009

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NIAID Conference Seeks to Advance Leishmaniasis
Research in North Africa and the Middle East

On June 22, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and several international partners will begin a four-day conference in Tunis, Tunisia, focused on enhancing leishmaniasis research in the region. The conference, entitled Leishmaniasis: Collaborative Research Opportunities in North Africa and the Middle East, will welcome scientists from Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Iran, Mali, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Tunisia and the United States. The Institut Pasteur de Tunis, an NIAID-supported Tropical Medicine Research Center, is the in-country partner for the event.

“This conference reflects our long-standing commitment to scientific partnership in North Africa and the Middle East,” says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “By collaborating with local scientists, we develop a greater capacity to reduce the global burden of leishmaniasis and promote a deeper understanding among our nations.”

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease transmitted by the bite of an infected sand fly. Depending on the parasite, it can cause chronic skin lesions (cutaneous leishmaniasis) or damage internal organs such as the spleen, liver and bone marrow (visceral leishmaniasis). The disease is a major health challenge in North Africa and the Middle East and a significant risk for U.S. military personnel stationed in the region. There currently is no vaccine for leishmaniasis, and existing drugs can be toxic and often are only partially effective.

The Tunisia conference, sponsored by NIAID and the NIH Office of Rare Diseases, will cover recent advances in leishmaniasis research and identify opportunities for research training and collaboration among the participating countries. Major topics of discussion will include the following:

  • Susceptibility and resistance to leishmaniasis in rodent models and in humans
  • Effects of sand fly salivary proteins on disease outcome
  • The genome of the Leishmania parasite and an update on the Sand Fly Genome Project
  • Leishmaniasis control strategies, including novel diagnostic tests and drug and vaccine candidates as well as interventions directed toward the sand fly and animal hosts

Staff from NIAID, NIH, the Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CDRF), the U. S. Naval Medical Research Unit No. 3 and the World Health Organization will provide individual mentoring to interested participants on how to apply for funding for their research. Conference participants will be eligible to apply for a competitive, NIAID-funded CDRF grant that provides seed money for collaborative leishmaniasis research.

Media inquiries can be directed to the NIAID Office of Communications at 301-402-1663,

NIAID conducts and supports research—at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide—to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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Last Updated June 17, 2009