Turning Membrane Fusion Machinery to Our Advantage
Endemic in nearly 100 countries, leishmaniasis is one of the most widespread yet neglected tropical diseases in the world today. Caused by the parasite Leishmania, the disease presents with disorders of the skin and internal organs. There is no effective vaccine available. Meanwhile, the arsenal of drugs used to treat leishmaniasis is limited, and the disease becoming resistant to some of them. By studying the mechanisms that enable Leishmania to outwit the immune system, we may be able to find a vaccine or better treatments.
Dr. Albert Descoteaux, Canada Research Chair in Intracellular Parasite Biology, is studying how the parasite Leishmania manipulates various processes in its host cell, the macrophage. This cell population of our immune system is normally responsible for destroying microbes and activating the immune system. In particular, Descoteaux and his research team are focusing on the intracellular compartments, or vacuoles, within which Leishmania replicates. By using approaches specific to the field of molecular and cellular biology, they have been able to clarify the role of the macrophage’s membrane fusion machinery in the biogenesis and functions of these vacuoles. At the same time, they are examining the parasite’s impact on the functioning of this membrane fusion machinery.
By gaining a better understanding of the biology of parasitophorous vacuoles (containing the parasite), Descoteaux’s work will help pave the way for new therapeutic and vaccine strategies against Leishmania, which may also be used to combat other infections caused by intracellular microbes.