By Ganesh Bhatt
New Delhi, June 26 (IANS) After three decades of hard work, the scientists at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) have discovered a new “reliable and cost-effective” way to identify asymptomatic Kala Azar (leishmaniasis) patients.
Visceral leishmaniasis is fatal and can cause death. It can also cause severe bleeding, infection, and facial disfigurement.
People living in India, Ethiopia, Brazil, Sudan, and Bangladesh are vulnerable to it.
The disease spreads easily as it remains asymptomatic in the early stage, and detecting it has so far been costly and very complex. However, the new research will make it much easier.
This internationally acclaimed research by Indian scientists has been published in the latest issue of ‘Clinical and Translational Immunology’ research journal.
In India, Kala Azar is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected ‘Phlebotomus argentipes’ sandfly. The size of these sandflies are a quarter of that of an average mosquito. Their body length is from 1.5 mm to 3.5 mm.
Adult sandflies are hairy, with straight wings that are small and large in proportion. It takes birth from an egg and the larva grows into an adult through the stage of the pupa. This entire cycle takes about a month. However, its development depends on temperature and other geographical conditions. Relative humidity, hot temperature, high soil moisture and dense tree plants are beneficial for these sandflies.
According to BHU scientist Dr Rajeev Kumar, the research team carried out transcriptomic study on blood samples collected from three groups of persons (asymptomatic Kala Azar patients, Kala Azar patients and healthy individuals) living in the area of influence of Kala Azar, and identified Amphiregulin — a biomarker — that helps in identifying asymptomatic individuals.
Amphiregulin not only inhibits inflammation and tissue damage, but can also help in differentiating individuals with active disease.
According to Dr Siddhartha Shankar, Kala Azar includes irregular fever, weight loss, enlargement of the spleen and liver, and anemia. Most cases occur in Brazil, East Africa and India. An estimated 50,000 to 90,000 new cases are reported annually worldwide, of which only 25 to 45 per cent are reported to the WHO. “Asymptomatic individuals do not show any symptoms of the disease but carry the parasite in their body which can help in the spread of Kala Azar. Therefore this research is a very interesting discovery in the field of Kala Azar research, especially in light of the eradication programme of the government.
Sharing the information about this new and crucial research with IANS, the BHU said that a new way of identifying asymptomatic Kala Azar patients has been discovered by BHU scientists which could be globally acceptable, reliable and cost-effective. The study was led by Siddharth Shankar Singh – Senior Research Fellow, under the guidance of Prof. Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor, Department of Medicine, Institute of Medical Sciences (IMS)-BHU, and Dr. Rajeev Kumar, CEMS, IMS-BHU.
According to the BHU, the new research will help in better management of the disease in the endemic area.
Prof. Shyam Sundar, the country’s leading scientist who has been working in the field of Kala Azar research for the last three decades, said, “We are taking forward our research work keeping in mind the Kala Azar eradication programme of the government, and this discovery is a big step in that direction.”