A CSU team of nine microbiologists, led by professor Patrick Brennan, received two grants totaling $7 million in order to further develop leprosy research. The grants were awarded by the National Institutes of Health.
“Colorado State is well known as an institution that both encourages solid scientific research and sets a very high standard. Dr. Brennan has once again added luster to Colorado State’s reputation as an institution for outstanding research,” said Karen Wheeler, media relations specialist for CSU.
Since there are less than one million reported cases of leprosy in the world, with only about 100 cases in the United States, there is only need for one leprosy research lab.
CSU is easily able to study leprosy because it also performs research on tuberculosis. Both leprosy and tuberculosis are mycobacterium diseases, so CSU only needs one lab for researching both.
Leprosy is rarely fatal; however, the disease subjects people to an extreme amount of suffering.
“Leprosy is caused by nasal secretions, which means that people must be in close contact with someone that has leprosy in order to get the disease themselves,” Brennan said.
Leprosy is caused by the Mycobacterium leprae overtaking the body and attacking the nerves and cooler tissues. Mycobacterium leprae grows at 34 degrees centigrade, or at about 93 degrees Fahrenheit.
When leprosy enters into a body patches of skin start to lose feeling, lesions develop on parts of the body, disfiguring lumps appear on the face, nose and ears and nerves start to deteriorate until the person loses their fingers, hands and toes.
Armadillos and mice are two of the few animals that can carry leprosy. Mice carry the leprae in their footpads and leprosy grows all over the organs in armadillos.
At CSU, the leprosy research is done only with mice; however, the CSU lab correlates their information with a lab in Baton Rouge, which does leprosy research using armadillos.
There is a “fear that the disease will spread,” Brennan said.
The government wants to continue the leprosy research in order to prevent the disease from becoming uncontrollable.
“The goal of our research is to find a way to detect pre-clinical leprosy,” Brennan said. “We will then continue to put the victim on drugs which will prevent the Mycobacterium leprae from spreading.”