The mechanisms of transmission of M. leprae, the causative organism of leprosy are still unclear with respect to the source, reservoir, mode of transmission and interaction with the host. Multiple hypotheses exist, but answers remain speculative owing to the inability to cultivate M. leprae in vitro, the slow onset of disease, and the broad spectrum of clinical manifestations. The recent availability of the genome sequence of an isolate of M. leprae is a valuable new resource applicable to the epidemiology of leprosy.
It is important to prove identity of M. leprae within the chain of transmission. The identification of new polymorphic loci based on the principle of variable number of tandem repeats (VNTRs) and the development of robust technologies for strain typing are a key component of our research activities.
We have now established an international research consortium with the aim of a concerted effort to study multiple factors in order to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the most plausible causes for continued incidence of leprosy in the endemic areas.