Science - November 10, 2011

Zebrafish research to find cure for sleeping sickness

Geert Wiegertjes from the Cell Biology & Immunology Group will set up a European training network to find new medicines against infectious diseases. A PhD student in his group will look into how a parasite causes the sleeping sickness in human beings.

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Wiegertjes will be the training coordinator of a Marie Curie network headed by the Leiden University and which also comprises institutes from France, England, Germany and Spain. The EU will be giving 3.7 million euros to this training network, which will assign eleven PhD students and three postdocs to work with the participants. Other participating organizations include several pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies keen to apply the research results in making medicines.
The researchers will direct their efforts at the zebrafish, a very promising model for research into infectious diseases. The pathogens - bacteria, viruses and parasites - have developed complex strategies in the course of evolution to bypass the human immunity system. The network participants want to have a better understanding of the interplay between diseases and immunity. This interaction process is easy to follow in the zebrafish. By doing so, the researchers hope to discover anti-microbial substances which can fight infectious diseases.
This four-year project is known as 'FishForPharma: Training network on zebrafish infection models for pharmaceutical screens'. It is classified as a training network because the project will involve the participants in many courses, workshops, exchange programmes and 'training through research'. Wiegertjes is involved in such a European training network for the third time.
His group has hitherto been conducting research mostly into the effect of infections caused by trypanosomes - parasites which cause the sleeping sickness in human beings - on the health of the carp. His new research focus, the zebrafish, is closely related to the carp. In this way, FishForPharma enables him to carry on his current research into the interaction between immunology and fish health. A new experimental tank for zebrafish is being built.

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