Canine and feline leishmaniasis in Israel, its relationship to human leishmaniasis, co-infections, risk factors and drug resistance.

This joint PhD project will be based at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, with a 12 month stay at the University of Melbourne.

Supervision Team: Professor Gad Baneth (Hebrew University of Jerusalem); Professor Rebecca Traub and Dr Vito Colella (University of Melbourne)

Project description: The leishmaniases are a group of diseases caused by Leishmania species which inflict three disease forms in humans; cutaneous, mucocutaneous and the fatal visceral leishmaniasis. Almost all species of Leishmania are zoonotic and have animal reservoirs, including the three species known to cause disease in Israel, Leishmania infantum, Leishmania tropica and Leishmania major, all transmitted by sand flies. The dog is the main reservoir for L. infantum and can also harbour L. tropica and L. major infections. Domestic cats have also been documented to be infected with these species. Furthermore, co-infections with other vector-borne pathogens have been shown to influence the course of Leishmania infection in dogs and cats, and may therefore be important risk factors for the establishment and progression of this infection and further dissemination to other animals and humans. Such co-infections include ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, mycoplasmosis, anaplasmosis, hepatozoonosis and viral infections. These agents, as well as leishmaniasis, are either a potential threat to establishing in Australia, or have already become endemic in it. The aim of the PhD project will be:
1. To map Leishmania spp. infection in dogs and cats in Israel and to evaluate environmental risk factors for this infection and the influence of co-infection of the disease.
2. To study drug resistance in Leishmania isolates from animals in Israel, as a risk factor for the spread of the disease. The Baneth lab has described and characterized resistance to allopurinol, the main drug used for treatment of canine leishmaniasis worldwide.

The Israel-based PhD student will perform a country-wide survey of canine and feline leishmaniasis and collect samples and demographic data to define risk factors, during his/her first phase of studies (12 months). In the project’s second phase, the student will study the detection of co-infections at UoM using the samples collected in Israel, testing for co-infections and their influence using the newly developed metabarcoding system at UoM (12 months). The third final 12-month phase of the study will be performed at the Hebrew U and include evaluation of the different risk factors for leishmaniasis, its association with the human disease using data on notifiable diseases from the Israeli Ministry of Health, and analysis of infection for drug resistance using molecular techniques developed in the Baneth lab.

How to Apply

Minimum entry requirements for a PhD at Melbourne are summarised here, including visa and English language requirements. For information on applying for this project, please see here. Applications should be sent to Professor Gad Baneth.

References: 1. Baneth, G., Yasur-Landau, D., Gilad, M., Nachum-Biala, Y., 2017. Canine leishmaniosis caused by Leishmania major and Leishmania tropica: comparative findings and serology. Parasit Vectors 10, 113.; 2. Huggins, L.G., Koehler, A.V., Ng-Nguyen, D., Wilcox, S., Schunack, B., Inpankaew, T., Traub, R.J., 2019a. Assessment of a metabarcoding approach for the characterisation of vector-borne bacteria in canines from Bangkok, Thailand. Parasit Vectors 12, 394.; 3. Huggins, L.G., Koehler, A.V., Ng-Nguyen, D., Wilcox, S., Schunack, B., Inpankaew, T., Traub, R.J., 2019b. A novel metabarcoding diagnostic tool to explore protozoan haemoparasite diversity in mammals: a proof-of-concept study using canines from the tropics. Sci Rep 9, 12644.; 4. Huggins, L.G., Koehler, A.V., Schunack, B., Inpankaew, T., Traub, R.J., 2020. A Host-Specific Blocking Primer Combined with Optimal DNA Extraction Improves the Detection Capability of a Metabarcoding Protocol for Canine Vector-Borne Bacteria. Pathogens 9. 5. Colella V, Nguyen VL, Tan DY, Lu N, Fang F, Zhijuan Y, Wang J, Liu X, Chen X, Dong J, Nurcahyo W, Hadi UK, Venturina V, Tong KBY, Tsai YL, Taweethavonsawat P, Tiwananthagorn S, Le TQ, Bui KL, Watanabe M, Rani PAMA, Annoscia G, Beugnet F, Otranto D, Halos L. 2020  Zoonotic Vectorborne Pathogens and Ectoparasites of Dogs and Cats in Eastern and Southeast Asia. Emerg Infect Dis.;26(6):1221-1233.