The Trypanosoma Unit, led by Prof Jan Van Den Abbeele, focuses its activities on African trypanosomes, protozoan parasites that causes devastating diseases in humans (Human African trypanosomiasis or sleeping sickness) and livestock (Animal trypanosomiasis). Activities reach from basic research to translational, field-oriented work. The major aims of our work are to extend our understanding of i) the parasite adaptive changes during key life cycle stages and its interplay with the host micro-environments and ii) the mechanisms of parasite drug resistance acquisition. Besides, we develop and/or optimize methods for improved parasite diagnosis and molecular surveillance. The outcome of our activities will lead to the development of novel approaches contributing to an improved control of the diseases in humans and/or livestock and its surveillance in the field.
Our major research lines include fundamental biology of the trypanosome parasite (Trypanosoma brucei sp. and T. congolense) with focus on key stages in the parasite life cycle such as the final metacyclic stage in the tsetse fly salivary glands or mouthparts, and the early development in the host skin, after transmission through tsetse bite. Here, we study the host innate immune response and the role of parasite and tsetse saliva components in modulating this skin immune environment. In addition, the role of specific parasite surface proteins at this developmental stage are being studied including their potential to be targeted by vaccination to hamper the infection at this early stage in the mammalian host. Other basic research of our unit focuses on the mechanism of drug transport and the acquisition of drug resistance in the livestock trypanosomes.
Our major translational research line focuses on the refinement and validation of (q)PCR-based tools to identify the human T. brucei gambiense parasite in various host tissue samples (of humans as well as animals) and to be used as a sensitive and specific diagnostic instrument. This activity is closely linked with the various sleeping sickness elimination programs that are coordinated by ITM (Dept. Public health).
As WHO Collaborating Centre for Research and Training on Human African Trypanosomiasis, we perform reference testing and external quality control for gambiense-HAT diagnosis and provide training and support to national HAT-reference labs in endemic countries.
The Unit has one of the largest and most diverse collections of well documented T. brucei gambiense and T. congolense field-isolated strains worldwide.
Besides supervising students at various levels (bachelor, master, and PhD), we lecture on vector-borne diseases including sleeping sickness, on laboratory diagnostics and on basic molecular biology at ITM.
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