Shortly after the establishment of the Hebrew University Infectious disease research became a priority since the country was suffering from high child mortality due to malaria, tuberculosis and diarrheal diseases. As a result the first generations of biomedical researchers concentrated almost exclusively on the study of infectious diseases.
The Sanford F. Kuvin Center for the Study of Infectious and Tropical Diseases was established in 1976 and is presently part of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics within the Institute for Medical Research Israel – Canada in the Faculty of Medicine. The Kuvin Center focuses on the promotion of interdisciplinary research in parasitology and tropical medicine, the development of training programs, and regional and global cooperative health. As Dr. Kuvin said many times, “diseases, and the vectors that carry them, do not recognize borders…the prescription for peace is through cooperative science.”
Studies on infectious diseases are ongoing in many of the Faculty of Medicine’s departments. The Faculty’s parasitologists initially focused on local diseases, such as Rose of Jericho (Leishmaniasis), Malaria, African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), snail borne Schistosomiasis, and various intestinal parasites. While malaria and schistosomiasis were successfully eradicated in Israel, they still remain major killers in the developing world, where these parasites cause crippling disease in millions. Malaria research at the Kuvin Center is in the forefront in elucidating how these deadly parasites avoid human immune attack. The rational of these studies is that understanding the molecular mechanisms by which malaria parasites evade human immune attack, would lead to the development on novel therapeutic approaches that disrupt this ability, giving the human immune system an opportunity to clear the infection and overcome the disease.
Leishmaniasis remains hyper-endemic in Israel. In addition it is re-emerging in populated areas previously free of the disease. Today, one of the largest centers for Leishmaniasis research in the world is located in the Faculty, with several laboratories working on different aspects of this global disease including vaccine, diagnosis and drug development, disease monitoring and control, and studies on the basic molecular and cellular biology of the parasite. These laboratories have spearheaded Middle East regional projects with neighboring countries, designed to develop cooperation and promote closer relations through science by focusing on shared problems. International cooperation on disease research has always been an important mission. Programs on Schistosomiasis, Filariasis, Malaria and Leishmaniasis, have brought together scientists from Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Mali, Jordan, India, Costa Rica, Brazil, Uzbekistan and Turkey, among others, with the Kuvin Center’s scientists. These collaborative efforts combine laboratory expertise and field work with a direct impact on populations at risk.
In addition to these major diseases, other laboratories in the Kuvin Center study vectors mosquitoes, sand flies and snails that transmit infectious diseases, intestinal parasites, and head lice. Novel approaches, such as Biotherapy, using leeches and fly maggots, are under development to treat intractable diabetes-caused ulcers. Maggot products have been found to kill bacteria and may be useful in developing new antibiotics. In addition, some research groups render diagnostic services for Israeli travelers and offer an epidemiological service in order to prevent the spread and re-establishment of infectious diseases.
Kuvin Center scientists are funded by national and international research grants, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The European Research Council, and the Center has achieved international recognition for scientific excellence.