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Hansen's Disease Research: Animal Models

Genetic knockout mice as models for the leprosy spectrum

Investigator: Linda Adams, Ph.D.

Clinical, histopathological, and immunological criteria identify five forms of Hansen's disease:

  • tuberculoid (TT)
  • borderline tuberculoid (BT)
  • mid-borderline (BB)
  • borderline lepromatous (BL)
  • lepromatous (LL)

The development of genetically engineered knockout mice, particularly those with defects in immune pathways important in host defense, opens the possibility for additional murine models for human leprosy. Especially worthwhile would be models for the broad borderline area of the spectrum.

Understanding the basic immunoregulatory mechanisms of borderline disease could lead to a means of predicting or preventing reactions and furnish a focus for vaccine improvement and the development of efficient diagnostic tests and tools for epidemiological studies.

Dr. Adams has worked diligently to bring this approach into focus for studying Hansen's disease and leads a dynamic research team.

The Armadillo: A model for translational research

Investigator: Richard Truman, Ph.D.

As part of the infrastructure for leprosy research the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases funds a Leprosy Research Support contract to provide rare research materials to qualified investigators. This contract provides for propagation of leprosy bacilli and modeling leprosy infections using armadillos and other animal hosts at the National Hansen's Disease Program.

The undertaking also requires development of various basic microbiological procedures and reagents suitable for use with armadillos. Specific aims of Dr. Truman's program include:

  1. Propagation of M. leprae infected tissues and support of qualified investigators;
  2. Establishment of defined M. leprae reference strains;
  3. Develop methods to differentiate M. leprae -susceptible from resistant armadillos; and
  4. Advance armadillos as translational models for leprosy and tuberculosis.

In addition to managing the armadillo program, Dr. Truman studies aspects of control and eradication of Hansen's disease using epidemiological tools seeking to understand the source of infection and modes of transmission associated with HD. Dr. Truman's studies are intended to define the relative burden of leprosy on different populations and evaluate the importance of human and non-human reservoirs in leprosy transmission.