For Lassa fever, a viral disease that occurs exclusively in West Africa, there is as yet neither a reliable drug therapy nor a vaccine. The highly pathogenic virus leads to acute kidney failure and haemorrhagic courses with internal bleeding in some infected persons. In addition, life-threatening neurological conditions such as epilepsy can occur. With the new group, Omansen plans to study the severe neurological forms of Lassa fever in particular. To this end, he will conduct clinical field studies in West Africa as well as laboratory experiments in the high-security laboratory at BNITM.
In Nigeria, patients with severe neurological disorders will be examined with the help of electroencephalography (EEG) in order to determine abnormalities in the brain waves and the localisation of the brain regions involved. In addition, persons who have died of Lassa fever will be autopsied to determine the exact cause of death and, in particular, possible changes in the brain. In parallel, numerous laboratory experiments are taking place at the BNITM to better understand the molecular pathomechanisms. In this way, the researchers want to find out which factors can lead to severe forms of progression.
"Only if we succeed in better understanding the pathophysiology of Lassa fever can we develop targeted treatment methods and suitable drugs," Omansen explains.
The project "Neuropathology of Lassa fever" will be funded with around 300,000 euros in the coming years. It is very well integrated into the existing activities of the BNITM and builds on the long-standing cooperation of the Virology Department with the Irrua Teaching Hospital in Nigeria. In its justification, the Senate of the Leibniz Association particularly praises Omansen's combination of excellent basic research in tropical medicine and clinical activity as a medical doctor.
About the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine
The Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNITM) is Germany’s largest institution for research, treatment and training in the field of tropical diseases and new emerging infections. The current scientific focus is on malaria, haemorrhagic fever viruses, immunology, epidemiology and clinical studies of tropical infections as well as on the mechanisms of the viral transmission by mosquitoes. For the handling of highly pathogenic viruses and infected insects, the Institute has laboratories of the highest biosafety level (BSL-4) and a BSL-3 insectary. The Institute has been appointed by the Federal Ministry of Health as the National Reference Center (NRC) for the detection of all tropical pathogens as well as by the WHO as Collaborating Center for arboviruses and haemorrhagic fever viruses. In collaboration with the Ghanaian Health Ministry and the University of Kumasi the Institute has been operating a modern research and training center in the West-African rain forest for over ten years, which is also available to external research groups.