Over the past decade, research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has helped advance a global campaign led by the World Health Organization (WHO) to eliminate two neglected tropical diseases that have left tens of millions of people permanently disabled or disfigured.

One of those diseases is lymphatic filariasis, which in severe cases causes elephantiasis: painfully swollen limbs that make walking and the tasks of daily life difficult. The second is river blindness, known more formally as onchocerciasis, which leads to blindness and severe skin disease. Both are caused by parasitic worms that are transmitted by biting insects.

Now, an international team led by Gary Weil, MD, professor of medicine and of molecular microbiology in the Washington University School of Medicine, plans to conduct clinical trials and related studies in Africa and Oceania that could help eliminate these diseases as a public health problem.  

The work is being done with the assistance of up to $24.7 million in new grant funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. About $6 million already has been committed to the project, with additional funding dependent on the results of the first wave of studies.

Weil is principal investigator of the long-running Death to Onchocerciasis and Lymphatic Filariasis Project(DOLF), funded by the Gates Foundation.