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The Heiser Program for Research in Leprosy 2014

Deadline for research grant applications: March 20, 2014

The Awards

In accordance with Dr. Heiser’s instructions, grant funds must be used, not for treatment of patients, but for basic laboratory research directed at a better understanding of leprosy and its bacterial agent.  The ultimate aim is to find measures for the prevention and cure of leprosy that will serve to bring the disease under control.  Research grants that support the training efforts of laboratories involved in research on leprosy, or that provide funds for the initiation of new leprosy research projects in the field will be awarded. 

Please note that in 2014 the Heiser Program is only funding leprosy research and will not support research or fellowships on tuberculosis.

Research Grants in Leprosy


To provide support to basic scientists to allow them to contribute to the global goal of true leprosy elimination, in particular, the application of new and available tools toward diagnosis and blocking transmission, but also to: (1) investigate mechanisms of nerve damage and reactions; (2) develop more effective chemoprophylaxis, immunoprophylaxis, and rapid bactericidal drugs to treat active disease; and (3) understand the organism, its origins, its pathogenicity, and immunological spectrum the bacilli can induce.  Other areas of importance are the use of the genome of M. leprae to identify new drug targets and immunologically important molecules.

Please note, the Heiser Program Scientific advisory committee (with contributions from the leprosy research community) is reviewing major topics for future support that focus on changing priorities toward a greater control of global leprosy (many of them identified at the recent International Leprosy Congress). In 2015 multi-institutional/investigator applications may be sought in accordance with those identified topics.  Depending on selection of new priorities, the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Heiser Program may suspend investigator initiated proposals after 2014.

Type of Research Grants Available in 2014

  • Two year research grants of up to $70,000: a maximum of $35,000 per year.
  • Deadline for research grant applications: March 20, 2014


Applications for leprosy research grants should come from laboratories that have experience in leprosy research and have demonstrable ongoing, productive interactions with corresponding laboratories in endemic regions and/or leprosy field sites/workers.

Application Checklist

Applications for a research grant must include:
  1. The Research Grant Face Sheet and the Grant Payment form.
  2. A detailed description of the proposed project, not to exceed five single-spaced, typewritten pages exclusive of bibliography, tables, and figures.  Follow the NIH guidelines for margins, font and size of type (11 point type or larger; ½” margins, etc.).
  3. A proposed budget must accompany the application.
  4. Curriculum vitae and relevant bibliographies of scientists participating in the project.
  5. Statement of current grant support available to the laboratory/investigators.
  6. Download the document with the Research Grant Face Sheet and Grant Payment form, fill them out, and e-mail them to  All remaining parts of the application package should be contained in one PDF file and submitted electronically to Len McNally at  The researcher’s last name and the word “Heiser” should appear on the subject line of your e-mail. (e.g., Jones – Heiser)


We will acknowledge all applications and announce the awards by June 6, 2014.  Successful applicants must activate the grant between July 1 and December 31, 2013.  No more than 10 percent of the award can be used for the salaries of senior personnel. The Program does not pay institutional overhead costs. Grants will be paid through the institution’s fiscal office. A final report is required at the end of the grant year.  

Address all inquiries to:
Len McNally, Director
The Heiser Program for Research in Leprosy
The New York Community Trust
909 Third Avenue
New York, New York 10022 U.S.A.
Tel: (212) 686-0010, ext. 556; FAX: (212) 532-8528

The Scientific Advisory Committee

Gilla Kaplan, Ph.D., Chair
Patrick J. Brennan, Ph.D.
Stewart T. Cole, Ph.D.
Sabine Ehrt, Ph.D.
Jerrold J. Ellner, M.D.
Thomas M. Shinnick, Ph. D.


Dr. Victor George Heiser devoted his life to the study and treatment of tropical diseases, leprosy in particular.  As Associate Director of the International Health Division of the Rockefeller Foundation, he circled the earth 17 times on his medical missions.  His experiences were recounted in a best-selling autobiography, “An American Doctor’s Odyssey,” published in 1936.

In 1969, Dr. Heiser recalled that “sixty years ago it became my responsibility and duty to gather up 10,000 lepers in the Philippines and transport them to a leper colony.  The hope then was that isolation could reduce the incidence of the disease and perhaps eventually wipe it out.  It didn’t work.  Now we have a new system – the clinic system – and that, too, has had practically no effect whatever in statistically reducing the incidence of leprosy.  Indeed, it is apparently increasing in many parts of the world.  But we must not sit idly by while so many people suffer from this horrible disease.”

Leprosy is an infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae. Approximately 230,000 new cases are detected each year, predominately in India and Brazil, but also in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nepal, and Tanzania. In addition, millions of patients, no longer infectious, still suffer from the permanent disabilities and handicaps that are the particular consequences of leprosy. These people, no longer counted among registered patients, inhabit the leprosoria/“lazarios” (leper colonies) still found in many countries on all continents and are a reminder that clearance of the infection is not the end of the disease. Nevertheless, the current world leprosy situation has vastly improved since Dr. Heiser’s time.  Under the World Health Organization’s Global Leprosy Elimination Program, by 1998 the global prevalence rate was estimated at 828,803, an 85% reduction since 1985.  Still, global prevalence was 1.4 per 10,000 and, in the top endemic countries, 3.81 per 10,000.  The elimination goal of one case per 10,000 was reset for the end of 2005, this time not globally, but by country and region.

Yet, the goal has not been achieved in all major leprosy endemic regions. According to official reports received for 2012 some 20 countries reported more than 1000 new cases, the global registered prevalence rate stood at 189,018 cases, while the number of new cases detected during that year was 232,857, 6,231 more new cases than in 2011, a matter of great concern  (WHO Weekly Epidemiological Report, 30 August, 2013,

The data on new case detection compared with prevalence figures indicate that in spite of identification and treatment of the vast majority of patients, transmission is still occurring and that individuals other than clinical leprosy patients, such as infected contacts or those with preclinical leprosy, probably serve as important sources of ongoing transmission.

Today, leprosy is diagnosed solely on the basis of physical symptoms; the simple detection of acid fast bacilli in the skin slit of the ear lobe, expressed as “bacterial index” (BI) and “morphological index” (MI), is now seldom used. The mixed results of the Leprosy Elimination Program in recent years have led to serious questions about definitions and validity of the common epidemiological markers including “prevalence” (the number of registered and treated patients at the end of a year), and “new case detection” (which can merely reflect the results of intense leprosy elimination campaigns). The call has emerged for reliable tools to measure the fall in the incidence of leprosy.  

Underlying the conundrum of decreasing prevalence and at best relatively static new case detection rates is lack of knowledge on transmission and incubation time of leprosy infection.  Issues such as primary portal of bacillary entry, transmission from paucibacillary cases, and non-symptomatic carriage, are all unresolved.  What is urgently needed are indicators that directly and accurately measure the level of leprosy transmission at the population level. Accordingly, the Heiser Program for Research in Leprosy and Tuberculosis has been placing more of its limited resources into the basic research questions of diagnosis of infection, transmission of the disease, and other issues such as nerve damage and leprosy reactions. The Enhanced global strategy for further reducing the disease burden due to leprosy (plan period:2011-2015). New Delhi, WHO, Regional Office for South East Asia,  2009 (SEA-GLP-2009.3) ( aims at reducing the rate of new cases with grade-2 disabilities worldwide by ≥35% by the end of 2015.

In 1972, the will of Dr. Heiser established the Heiser Grant in The New York Community Trust. Succeeding Scientific Advisory Committees have included Dr. Maclyn McCarty, Dr. W. Lane Barksdale, Dr. Barry Bloom, Dr. Charles C. Shepard, Dr. Roy Curtiss III, Dr. Thomas Shinnick, and Dr. Jerold Ellner.

The program has contributed to research on the control of leprosy through research grants and post-doctoral training fellowships, and continues to do so. More recently, it has made large investments in major research projects, such as sequencing the genome of Mycobacterium leprae, the Rifampin-Ofloxacin-Minocycline intervention trial in South India, and IDEAL (Initiative for Diagnostic and Epidemiological Assays for Leprosy), a worldwide consortium of researchers working on the application of new antigens for detection of sub-clinical leprosy and new genetic markers of the leprosy bacillus for molecular epidemiological studies. Beyond 2014 the Program intends to again assume this emphasis on major projects with the potential of greater impact on the global goal of true elimination of the disease.

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