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Multinational Research Team Granted Eight Million Euros to Help Reduce Burden of Parasitic Disease in African Countries

The sensitivity of Beckman Coulter Life Sciences’ CytoFLEX Flow Cytometer is underpinning a pioneering multinational research initiative. This is designed to transform the lives of those suffering from a disfiguring and potentially life-threatening parasitic disease.

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The research team has just secured a grant of eight million Euros from the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), a program supported by the European Union*. Part of this will be used to evaluate the immune status of people suffering from a disfiguring type of leishmaniasis, caused by a tiny single-celled parasite. Leishmaniasis primarily affects people in South America, East Africa and Asia, especially those weakened by malnutrition and poverty.

The project is coordinated by the European Vaccines Initiative and includes researchers from Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda as well as the UK. It is led by Prof. Paul Kaye, a global expert in tropical diseases and based at the Hull York Medical School at the UK’s University of York. Prof. Kaye has developed a new therapeutic vaccine which it is hoped will boost immunity. A prototype is currently being tested in Sudan and will also be evaluated by the research project.

Prof Kaye explained: “To do this successfully, we had to identify better ways of evaluating blood cells in a robust and standardized manner and also be able to carry this out at different research laboratories across East Africa.” They, therefore, needed to find a technologically advanced tool, sensitive enough to support the research aims of identifying rare cell populations, even those with low levels of surface marker expression.

In collaboration with Dr. Peter O’Toole, Director of the University of York’s internationally renowned Imaging and Flow Cytometry Centre, they found the solution in the CytoFLEX, Beckman Coulter Life Sciences’ research flow cytometer, which uses avalanche photodiode detection to achieve the sensitivity required.

Prof Kaye went on: “Our first step was to find a highly sensitive, blood testing system, based on flow cytometry technology, which was easy for less experienced staff to use and straightforward to maintain. As well as being able to test samples quickly, researchers also had to be confident in the reproducibility of their results, so that they were able to identify the same cell types wherever their laboratory was located. This required both the right equipment and well-trained staff.”

The project wanted to lay down a technological framework which would support other scientists in East Africa, encouraging the expansion of their discovery research. “By demonstrating the high speed, analytical power of modern flow cytometry, and training others in its use, we hope to open up research possibilities for other African colleagues,” added Prof Kaye.

New Flow Cytometry Centre of Excellence for East Africa
Dr. O’Toole established York’s Imaging and Flow Cytometry Centre 17 years ago and it has become a leading center for flow cytometry training and expertise, working with global healthcare companies and pioneering researchers.

Using his expertise and that of project coordinator Dr. Karen Hogg, they have set the ambitious task of establishing a flow cytometry Centre of Excellence in East Africa. “Right from the start, we wanted to create a nucleus of highly skilled flow cytometer experts to look after this investment and able to foster further local research and training in their own countries,” said Dr. O’Toole. “This would benefit research not only on leishmaniasis but many other infectious and non-communicable diseases.”

Along with Dr. Hogg, they have already run an initial training course, providing high level data analysis skills and instrument maintenance to a group of newly appointed flow managers from each partner country. As part of this, new CytoFLEX instruments have been located at each partner site.

Dr. O’Toole also explained the importance of reproducibility of results. “For research programs on neglected diseases, every penny counts – and in multi-center studies, comparability of data is paramount to success. This would simply not be possible without having access to such an easy to use and compact instrument like the CytoFLEX. It is capable of sophisticated and detailed analysis even when working with only small volume samples and across different labs.”

Beckman Coulter’s own data indicates that a significant amount of time spent on preparing the antibody cocktails in flow cytometry labs is wasted due to manual errors, spillage and stock control mistakes. It estimates that an average 25% of the reagents used in a lab are wasted1 .

In African labs, it is especially important that reagent antibody supplies can be stored and transported at normal temperatures without needing refrigeration. Dr. Hogg added: “With the CytoFLEX platform we have the opportunity to replace liquid antibodies with standardized panels of dry, pre-formulated reagents. This makes it easier to reproduce results and ensure accuracy. It also means less preparation time, with our partner labs able to reduce the inevitability of waste, whilst decreasing variability and errors due to human handling.”

Samuel Boova, Beckman Coulter Life Sciences’ Director Alliance Development, High Burden Markets, commented: “The prevalence of leishmaniasis continues to rise, having a devastating economic impact on some of the poorest countries in the world, already struggling with high burden of disease. Robust research programs are vitally needed if we are to discover ways to improve life expectancies and the quality of life of such vulnerable people.

“Scientists such as Prof Kaye and Dr. O’Toole recognize the sensitivity and power of the CytoFLEX, even though it is a relatively small device. The way it uses fiber optics was first seen in the telecommunications industry and we are the only company to enlist the power of avalanche photodiode detection in a flow cytometer to deliver such detailed immunophenotyping data.

“By training researchers to accurately understand and interpret the analysis, they and their colleagues will have access to accurate and significant information to further this vital research program.”

*grant number RIA2016V-1640 – PREV_PKDL.

1 Rajab A, Axler O, Leung J, Wozniak M, Porwit A. Ten- color 15-antibody flow cytometry panel for immunophenotyping of lymphocyte population. International Journal of Laboratory Hematology 2017 May;39 Suppl 1:76-85. doi: 10.1111/ijlh.12678.

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