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News item | 31 January 2024

Addressing Neglected Tropical Diseases on January 30

Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) pose a significant threat to over 1.7 billion people worldwide, yet they often receive minimal attention. To catalyze change, the World Health Assembly has officially designated January 30 as ‘Neglected Tropical Diseases Day.’ This year’s theme is ‘Unite, Act, Eliminate’. University lecturer Jaap van Hellemond sheds light on Erasmus MC’s contributions.

‘NTDs predominantly afflict low-income countries, rendering them commercially unattractive to the pharmaceutical industry. Consequently, non-profit institutions such as universities and medical centers play a pivotal role,’ emphasizes Jaap van Hellemond, a university lecturer at the Department of Medical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (MMID). He takes pride in Erasmus MC’s unwavering commitment to advancing diagnostics, medications, and strategies for combating neglected tropical diseases.

Innovative Diagnostic Approach for Mycetoma

Researcher Jaap van Hellemond

Among the diseases within MMID’s research purview is mycetoma, an infection that can lead to tumor-like growths on the feet, often necessitating amputation. Van Hellemond: ‘The research group of dr. Wendy van de Sande’s has pioneered a novel tool for expediting mycetoma diagnosis, which can be deployed even in remote villages, ensuring swift patient access to appropriate treatment.’

In addition to diagnostic advancements, Van de Sande and her colleagues are evaluating new mycetoma treatments as part of the open-source MycetOS program, fostering collaboration between scientists and non-scientists in research initiatives.

Educational Resources for Addressing Parasitic Infections

MMID also dedicates attention to neglected tropical diseases like parasitic worm infections, which affect over 1.5 billion people due to limited access to clean water. These infections can lead to diarrhea and, ultimately, malnutrition. Van Hellemond elaborates, stating, “Within the eWHORM program, Erasmus MC is developing a virtual training tool to effectively instruct individuals on diagnosing these infections.”

Furthermore, the Department of Public Health, represented by Prof. Dr. Sake de Vlas and Luc Coffeng, contributes to policy support for parasitic worm and other NTD control programs as active members of the NTD Modelling Consortium.

Rabies Investigation

The Viroscience Department conducts research on NTDs, including rabies, also known as hydrophobia. Rabies is a consequence of the rabies virus transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. Globally, over 60,000 individuals, primarily children, succumb annually to the neurological symptoms caused by rabies.

A rabies infection is nearly always fatal due to virus-induced immune suppression, Van Hellemond explains. ‘Clinical virologist Dr. Corine Geurts-van Kessel and her colleagues are dedicated to unraveling the mechanisms behind immune suppression and exploring avenues for developing novel therapeutic strategies. They collaborate with international partners in endemic regions such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, and South Africa.’

Unity in Action

Van Hellemond finds great satisfaction in the multitude of NTD projects currently underway at Erasmus MC. He underscores the pivotal role of collaboration and consortium formation in achieving success, asserting, ‘When accomplished individuals from diverse disciplines come together, we can achieve substantial progress. Ultimately, the more people join forces, the farther we can advance.’

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