YSPH Training Program in Latin America Refunded with $1 Million Grant

The Yale School of Public Health will continue preparing the next generation of infectious disease researchers in Colombia and other Latin America countries with the renewal of a federal training grant.

Fogarty's Global Infectious Disease Research Training (GID) program announced the $1.14 million award in May that will allow Professor Diane McMahon-Pratt and colleagues to continue training and building in-country scientific expertise over the next five years.

“This program has been important for creating a pipeline for career development for research in infectious diseases with the mentoring and training of Colombian scientists at various levels,” said McMahon-Pratt, who started the training program in Colombia in 2003 with Fogarty funds. “The program has linked universities and institutions within Latin America together, in a dynamic learning environment. The program is specifically focused on addressing critical gaps in infectious disease research capacity and community-based diagnosis, surveillance and management of diseases relevant to Colombia and Latin America.” 

The ongoing training focuses on leishmaniasis, a debilitating and potentially disfiguring disease that is transmitted by the bite of certain sand flies. The Yale-led collaboration seeks to translate scientific findings into public health interventions or products that reduce the incidence of the disease.

Leishmaniasis is endemic throughout much of Latin America and many other parts of the world and exacts a heavy toll, particularly on poorer segments of the population. The cutaneous form of the disease is believed to affect as many as 1.2 million people annually, while visceral leishmaniasis afflicts as many as 400,000.

The program pairs students in Colombia and other countries with Yale experts through approaches such as Web-based courses, real-time conferencing of lectures, mentorship, research collaboration and faculty and student exchanges.

McMahon-Pratt said that new areas of research include clinical study design and evaluation and implementation of mobile health strategies and technologies.

A total of 11 post-doctoral fellows, seven M.D. clinical research fellows, seven D.Sc. students, 15 M.Sc. students, and 12 Young Investigator scholars have received training through the program. The Fogarty network has grown from five participating institutions in the first year, to 13 in six major Colombian cities, including 11 universities. A total of 366 participants having completed the six courses offered over the last five years.

McMahon-Pratt has researched leishmaniasis for years and is working with both Yale and non-Yale colleagues on approaches to treat the infection and slow its transmission. One project involves the development of a topical treatment that could be used to treat cutaneous and mucocutaneous leishmaniasis, both of which result in large open sores. Her lab is also working to evaluate potential immunomodulatory compounds and delivery systems.

Fogarty’s GID program, which is a branch of the National Institutes of Health, supports scientific training in low- and middle-income countries in order to build a critical mass of researchers and support staff that can conduct independent infectious disease research in in-country institutions. Yale’s grant renewal was part of a larger award that included four other American universities conducting training programs on different diseases in Asia and Africa.

“Infectious diseases still exact a brutal toll in developing countries," said Fogarty Director Roger I. Glass. "These new grants will help lessen the impact of deadly pathogens, and provide opportunities to train researchers and clinicians to address them in novel ways.”

This article was submitted by Denise L Meyer on June 3, 2014.

A sand fly takes a blood meal, which is visible through its distended abdomen. Sand flies are responsible for the spread of the vector-borne parasitic disease leishmaniasis.
Cutaneous leishmaniasis is characterized by one or more lesions on areas where sand flies have fed. The sores can change in size and appearance over time and often end up looking somewhat like a volcano, with a raised edge and central crater.

Related People

Diane McMahon-Pratt

Professor Emeritus