Greg J Matlashewski
Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada
See interview in The Reporter.
Professor Greg Matlashewski, has been involved in basic and field research on leishmaniasis in Peru, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka for over 15 years. He recently led the World Health Organization program to eliminate visceral leishmaniasis from Northern India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Leishmaniasis is the second most deadly parasitic infectious disease after malaria and is a member of the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that include other infections of poverty including trypanosomiasis, filariasis, schistosomiasis, onchocerciasis, and others. NTDs are largely confined to rural areas of the developing world and are chronic, disabling and stigmatizing conditions that contribute to global health disparities between rich and poor countries. More than one billion people, one sixth of the world population, are affected by NTDs. Although not optimal, there do exist diagnostics, treatments, and vector control measures for many of these diseases including leishmaniasis.
Professor Matlashewski argues that one priority must be to establish how to effectively use existing interventions on the ground level. There are over 500,000 visceral leishmaniasis cases per year and 70% of the cases are clustered in Northern India (Bihar State), Southern Nepal and Bangladesh. Considering the unique epidemiological features of the disease in this endemic region, including humans are the only reservoir and the geographic distribution is limited, the elimination of visceral leishmaniasis in this part of the world is a realistic goal using existing interventions. Implementation research with existing diagnostics and drugs combined with active case detection is required to provide evidence-based and cost-effective strategies to eliminate this disease.
Professor Matlashewski continues to work closely with the WHO performing implementation research on the ground level and spends a considerable amount of time in the highly endemic regions of the world. When not doing field research, he teaches and works with members in his lab at McGill where he maintains a strong basic research program. Among the central research questions in his lab is why some species are less virulent and remain in the skin (cause cutaneous leishmaniasis) whereas other species are highly virulent and migrate to visceral organs where they cause fatal visceral leishmaniasis. Genomic and reverse genetic analysis is used to compare virulent and avirulent Leishmania strains to define the genetic basis for virulence and this information could be used to develop new treatments and vaccines. The laboratory is also developing a novel diagnostic test that will be able to measure Leishmania levels in the blood of infected individuals.