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DMU expert to develop treatments for neglected diseases that affect a billion people

A De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) academic is set to conduct research that could improve the health of people across the globe.

Dr Mingzhong Li's ultimate aim is to develop low-cost, effective oral treatments for neglected tropical diseases (NTGs), which affect more than one billion people worldwide and can be a fatal.

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He feels "privileged" to have received a prestigious grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, enabling him to work with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) on this largely overlooked area.

His PhD students will also benefit from this "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity.

Dr Li said: "Development of drugs to treat NTDs has received insufficient research and development investment.

"The treatments are very limited, dated, toxic and inconvenient.

"We will mostly focus on designing the right medicine for Human African Trypanosomiasis (also known as sleeping sickness)."

Dr Li, who joined DMU in 2006, will draw on his expertise in pharmaceutical cocrystals, which can improve the physical properties of infection-treating antiprotozoal agents, to find a solution.

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He said: "Colleagues in the Leicester School of Pharmacy have developed the molecules. My study is how to deliver them to the body effectively, to make them more soluble so they can pass through the gastrointestinal barrier into the circulation system and create a therapeutic effect.

"Receiving the award is really important because I can carry out cell culture experiments and tests that can't be done here and work with the world's leading scientists in the field of the disease treatments.

"It's a privilege for us."

The year-long project starts in May and Dr Li will spend about a third of his time at the LSHTM. At the end of year, he hopes to apply for a bigger grant to build on the preliminary study and is "really confident" about the potential for drug delivery.

"This could have a potentially huge impact," he said.

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PhD students Preya, Manreet and Linzie

Manreet Kaur is among the PhD students working on different aspects and stages of drug development who will also reap the rewards of the grant.

"I will get to do cell culture studies and experiments that will relate to my work here, which looks at understanding the solubility and permeability of artemisinin (anti-malarial) cocrystals," said Manreet, who also studied Forensic Science BSc and Pharmaceutical Quality by Design MSc at DMU.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I feel very lucky."

Posted on Monday 5th March 2018

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