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The Heiser Program for Research in Leprosy 2015-2016

Deadline for Research Grant Applications: March 20, 2015

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 aspiration of the Program in 2015, is the application of the outcomes of more recent research on leprosy biomarker/diagnostic research to the global effort to truly eliminate the disease.

Rationale for a New Perspective and Approach towards Ultimate Leprosy Elimination

The World Health Organization’s Leprosy Elimination Program, “Towards a World without Leprosy”, was initiated in 1982. However, transmission continues and has remained at around 200,000 new cases per annum worldwide for many years. A recent article by Smith et al. (in Lancet Infect. Dis. 2014: 14: 96-98) has defined the challenges towards the goal of zero leprosy transmission involving early diagnosis, contact tracing, strict surveillance and, in some cases, post-exposure prophylaxis.

A New Direction for the Heiser Program for Research on Leprosy

The Heiser Program over the next few years plans to devote its resources to joining in the challenge of true leprosy elimination within a generation, specifically concentrating on the application of proven and new biomarkers towards identification of earlier indications of leprosy and risk factors of disease. The Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) of the Heiser Program proposes to take an active part in the implementation of successful proposals. The SAC has in mind the nature of ideal sites for the implementation of this new vision: on-going, dynamic ‘seek-and-treat” surveillance programs, well managed and well-funded by national programs or other organizations, now already underway in various leprosy ‘hot-spots’ world-wide, such as in parts of Brazil, the larger Indian sub-continent, countries in Africa, and also parts of Myanmar, Indonesia, the Philippines, etc. Successful applications would primarily emanate from such leprosy endemic sites but would also involve those researchers now actively involved in the development and implementation of old and new generations of biomarkers of leprosy infection and disease progression. In that context, the SAC currently has in mind:

  • Proven established biomarkers such as antibodies to the well-established Phenolic Glycolipid I, Lipoarabinomannan, the LID-1 fusion protein, other M. leprae proteins, detected either through standard ELISA, or some of the newer lateral flow devices and kits.
  • Detection of some of these antigens directly in serum, urine, etc., is also a possibility.
  • Tests for T-cell responses through detection of various cytokines, for instance IGRA based on M. leprae specific proteins, are very well advanced and amenable for field applications and hold great promise as risk factors not only of the various polar phases of leprosy but of reactional states.
  • The expression levels of some M. leprae genes in biopsy samples is proving useful in gauging the viability status of M. leprae after chemotherapy and may be helpful as biomarkers of disease onset and progression.
  • Molecular epidemiological approaches as applied to biopsy specimens from borderline and lepromatous leprosy patients, based on knowledge of several M. leprae genomes and SNP, VNTR and other genomic polymorphic profiles, has proved useful in tracing routes of leprosy transmission in leprosy endemic communities. Whole genome sequencing combined with GIS has already seen limited use in these contexts.
  • The application of small molecule metabolomics, especially lipidomics, is in its infancy in the context of new innovative biomarkers of leprosy, perhaps due to the need for specialized liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry and data interpretations, but the limited information available to date indicate considerable potential in identification of host markers of disease status; at least we know that components of the arachidonic pathway can distinguish between pauci- and multi-bacillary leprosy.
There are many other promising avenues towards identifying reliable biomarkers, whether bacterial or host in origin that may portend onset of leprosy or risk of pathological progression that applicants may consider.

Type of Research Grants Available for the 2015-2016 Period

Based on these considerations the Heiser Program is seeking applications from qualified consortia of investigators primarily centered in leprosy endemic sites with on-going dynamic surveillance and treatment programs, but also encompassing laboratories and investigators with a proven commitment and success in leprosy diagnosis/biomarker discovery and the underlying science. Resources are available to fund 2-3 such applications for the 2-year period 2015 -2016 at a maximum of $300,000 for the period.

Deadline for Research Grant Applications: March 20, 2015

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 six 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.
Download 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 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 5, 2015.  Successful applicants must activate the grant between July 1 and December 31, 2015.  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:

The Heiser Program for Research in Leprosy

The New York Community Trust
909 Third Avenue, 22nd Floor
New York, New York 10022 U.S.A.
Tel: (212) 686-0010, ext. 556; FAX: (212) 532-8528

The Scientific Advisory Committee
Stewart T. Cole, Chair
Patrick J. Brennan, Ph.D.
Sabine Ehrt, Ph.D.
Gilla Kaplan, Ph.D.
David Scollard, M.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 and still available through second-hand book markets.

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.”

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.

Dr. Heiser would be pleased with the progress made over the past 30 years in the control of the type of leprosy he experienced in the Philippines and elsewhere during his remarkable odyssey, and with the contributions towards that achievement made by the Program created to honor of his name and legacy. The present-day Scientific Advisory Committee of the Heiser Program and the parent The New York Community Trust believe that this new direction laid out in this 2015 Request for Proposals would meet with his approval.

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