July, 2018; and as the cool of evening descends over Rio de Janeiro, 22 young researchers from South America and the UK gather, excited and a little nervous, to meet each other and their tutors for the next 5 days. The teaching team of 9 international experts are here to provide training in use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology in trypanosomes (Tryps), the parasites that cause the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis) and leishmaniasis. The students’ excitement is justified; their new skills will transform their professional lives, and may also be life-changing for many of the ~0.5 billion people worldwide at risk from these infections.1-4
“I always said there were two things I’d never do:
parasites and metabolism!”
Professor Ariel Silber, from the University of São Paulo (USP), the NTD Network hub leader for South America, laughs as he recalls himself as an impetuous undergraduate. Ariel is a specialist in trypanosomes (Tryps); single-celled parasites causing the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness. We are catching up over a coffee during his visit with Durham NTD Network members.
The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases UK HUB has launched a local Centre for Global Infectious Diseases (CGID), connecting with colleagues from Newcastle University and others working in infectious diseases research across the UK. The inaugural meeting took place in Durham, July 2018.
It is a hot May afternoon in Lucknow; members of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) take a break from the first ‘Hub leader’s meeting’, escaping the heat and throat-catching pollution to the tranquil gardens of the Bara Imambara (‘Court of the Imam’) and its famous maze, Bhul Bhulaiya. The Network’s aim is to find targets for new drugs to treat two NTDs, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis. The venue today seems apt; not only are these infections a vast biological puzzle, but also, behind the scenes, the Network’s 14 institutions are currently negotiating a maze of bureaucratic red tape to ratify the necessary legal requirements which will allow them to commence their international programme of collaborative work.
It is evening, 25th January 2018; following dinner, Professor Mitali Chatterjee from the Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Kolkata, faces the room and begins to recite Robert Burns’ famous poem ‘To a mouse’, carefully articulating the old Scots in her lilting Indian accent. The audience, members of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), have gathered in honour of a specific kind of ‘tim’rous beastie’, the parasites causing two NTDs, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis. Following Mitali, Professor Claudio Pereira (from the University of Buenos Aires), and Dr Julia Cricco (from the National University of Rosario) deliver further selected stanzas in rhythmical, Latino voices. Finally, Professor Simon Croft (from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) translates the poem with an unexpected twist – using the language of modern parasitology. The room shifts through amused attention to laughter and applause.