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Researchers, professors working to develop vaccine for tropical disease

Professors and doctorate students at the University of Texas at El Paso are working on an effective human vaccine for cutaneous leishmaniasis, a tropical disease caused by parasites.

Dr. Rosa Maldonado, an associate professor in biological sciences at UTEP, said it is a neglected disease that affects millions.

Maldonado said the parasites are sandflies three times smaller than a mosquito.

If infected, the disease can result in crater-like ulcers on the skin and a secondary infection could make it worse.

“They (parasites) start to eat the tissue and initially form small ulcers and they become bigger,” Maldonado said.

Cutaneous leishmaniasis is one of three types of the disease. Maldonado said the two others types can become deadly if it’s not treated.

According to the World Health Organization, there are an estimated 700,000 to 1 million new cases annually, and they cause 20,000-30,000 deaths each year.

The disease has impacted 2,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and naturally transmitted cases have made it to Texas and Oklahoma.

“It is a privilege to be in this group of amazing collaborators,” said Eva Iniguez, a biological sciences doctoral student.

Iniguez said since the disease has made it to Texas, there is a higher probability that El Paso could see some cases.

The vaccine still needs authorization to get to clinic trials.

“The research here at UTEP is really important. We can actually help someone in the near future,” said Iniguez.

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