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Douglas Jones, Veterinary Pathology, (515) 294-4682
Bridget Bailey, News Service, (515) 294-6881

Veterinary pathologist Doug Jones
Doug Jones

AMES, Iowa -- Imagine a disease that could muster up an assortment of symptoms ranging from skin ulcers to devastating organ diseases and facial disfiguration to immune malfunctions. It's a highly endemic and widespread disease in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, a disease that causes more than two million new cases in those regions each year.

Such a disease is leishmaniasis. (pronounced leesh'-mah-nye-uh-sis)

Doug Jones, assistant professor of veterinary pathology at Iowa State University, recently received $1.2 million from the National Institutes of Health to study one species of the emerging global disease, Leishmania amazonensis.

Leishmaniasis is the result of an infection from the protozoan parasite leishmania spp. It is transmitted through the bite of an infected female sandfly. Humans are often an accidental host of the disease. However, the natural, intended hosts include many mammals, such as rodents and dogs.

The species Leishmania amazonensis can manipulate the host's immune response and persist as a chronic infection. Jones wants to learn exactly how this infectious organism prevents the development of an effective cell-mediated immune response, which is critical for the successful control of many intracellular pathogens.

Jones said that understanding this process could lead to determining treatment and prevention of leishmaniasis and also could lead to new knowledge about similar pathogen-related diseases.

"The principles of immune evasion that these parasites employ are probably not unique to leishmania," Jones said." They will be applicable to other pathogens that are agents of chronic infectious diseases, such as mycobacteria." Mycobacteria are rod-like bacteria that cause diseases such as tuberculosis and leprosy.

A patient with leishmaniasis may exhibit visceral, cutaneous or mucosal syndromes. Visceral presents the victim with fever, weight loss and anemia--it may be fatal with or without treatment. Cutaneous begins with a skin ulcer and ends with a nasty scar, while mucosal leishmania may surface years after the bite of a sandfly, offering a gross disfiguration of the nasal passageway.

Global diseases are becoming a worldwide concern according to Jeff Beetham, assistant professor of veterinary pathology at Iowa State. Most diseases can travel anywhere in a variety of ways. For example, people who visit other countries may bring home an insect carrying a disease, or may have contracted a contagious disease themselves. Diseases such as hantavirus, malaria and AIDS are considered global diseases.

Although leishmaniasis is not expected to be a serious health issue in the United States, it is important to educate people about various emerging diseases, said Beetham. He helped initiate a new undergraduate minor at Iowa State dedicated to studying diseases such as leishmaniasis. The Emerging Global Diseases interdisciplinary minor focuses on the biological, social and economic perspectives of international health problems.


Note to Editors: A downloadable photograph of Iowa State University veterinary researcher Doug Jones is available at http://www.public.iastate.edu/~nscentral/photos.html.

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