An Australian-Indian partnership to eliminate visceral leishmaniasis

Case study from the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund.

Visceral leishmaniasis is a devastating disease caused by a parasite. It causes fever, weight loss, anaemia and enlargement of the spleen and liver.

Up to 350 million people in 88 countries are at risk, and an estimated 700,000 to 1 million new cases occur every year.

Australia–India Strategic Research Fund

Monash University partnered with the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology on this collaborative research project. Professor Jonathan Baell from Monash University co-led the research team of Australian and Indian partners.

Monash University also collaborated with:

  • Victorian Centre for Functional Genomics, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
  • Metabolomics Australia, Bio21 Institute, University of Melbourne
  • Compounds Australia, Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery.

The project identified 3 classes of candidate drugs against Leishmania parasites. It represents a significant breakthrough in the field.

The research team identified these compound classes using medicinal chemistry synthesis and structure-activity relationship (SAR) development. SAR is an approach that lets researchers select and optimise drug candidates. The research team also conducted biological testing of the compound classes in Leishmania parasites.

The team then tested the compounds in 2 types of assay. An assay is a procedure to confirm biological activity against Leishmania parasites in a test tube. An important part of this is checking the compounds will remain intact and active after being swallowed by mammals such as humans.

The new compound classes worked against Leishmania parasites in both assay types. The project will keep investigating other compound classes for clinical development.

The team also made significant progress towards developing a metabolomics platform at the University of Melbourne. This will help fast forward future drug discovery.

This collaborative research project has led to several unexpected outcomes:

  • working with Compounds Australia to screen the drug-like library and identify new chemical compounds.
  • developing mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) to monitor the response of Leishmania parasites to drugs. MSI is a technique to visualise and map drug activity in cells
  • developing an organoid for drug screening. An organoid is a tissue culture that helps researchers understand how diseases are treated.

The Australian project team received a grant of almost $1 million from the Australia–India Strategic Research Fund.

This collaboration has strengthened international relationships between Australian and Indian researchers.

Research partners in both countries have deepened scientific collaboration by:

  • signing a memorandum of understanding
  • hosting numerous conferences and meetings in Australia and India
  • drafting collaborative publications
  • video networking, emails and phone calls.

This project is pursuing 7 additional collaboration opportunities. 

Team leaders

Australian Team Leader:

Professor Jonathan Baell, Monash University

Indian Team Leader:

Dr Arindam Talukdar, Indian Institute of Chemical Biology