Research Areas of Emphasis

We are focusing our attention broadly on diseases that disproportionately affect poor people in the developing world, and improving health delivery. These include:

Chagas disease

Also known as American trypanosomiasis, the disease is caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi) from the bite of blood-sucking triatomine bugs that can cause cardiac alterations and digestive or neurological conditions leading to death if untreated. Infecting more than 10 million people, and more than 25 million people are at risk, the disease is mainly endemic in Latin America. Effective treatment exists if given at early stage of infection. Controlling infections and health care access are vital. Research at Northeastern University focuses on new methods for drug formulation and new diagnostic methods for identifying infection and monitoring treatment progress.


Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a retrovirus that attacks the immune system, thus causing acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Mainly transmitted through human to human contact, HIV is a truly global disease with 34 million cases, of which about 70 percent is in sub-Saharan Africa. AIDS has no cure or vaccine, but effective treatment exists. Complex issues of immunology, drugs toxicity, regimen simplification and access, cost-effective prevention interventions, designs and implementation, and policy choices are major challenges. Northeastern University faculty are working on drug access, philanthropy, and ethical issues, as well as the design and implementation of cost-effective prevention interventions in sub-Saharan Africa.


Leishmaniasis is caused by parasitic protozoa. Humans are infected via the bite of female phlebotomine sandflies producing four types of the disease which can cause skin ulcers, weight loss, swelling of the spleen and liver, and anaemia. The World Health Organization estimates that 12 million people are infected in 88 countries worldwide, with higher endemicity in Asia and Africa, but the true burden of this disease of poverty is largely unknown. Treatment exists but the drugs are toxic, expensive, and frequently ineffective. Current research at Northeastern University focuses on discovery to improve drugs and epidemiology and understanding of community practices in Africa.


Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium which is transmitted via the bites of infected Anopheles mosquitoes. The parasites multiply in the liver and then invade red blood cells causing severe fever and ultimately death if left untreated. Although malaria is endemic in more than 100 countries worldwide with half of the world’s population exposed, 90 percent of the burden is in sub-Saharan Africa causing nearly a million deaths, 90 percent of which are in children under five. Vaccine remains elusive, but effective treatment is available. A major challenge is the availability and supply of medicines, issues on which Northeastern University faculty are working.

Sleeping Sickness

Human African trypanosomiasis (HAT) is spread by the bite of an infected tsetse fly (Glossina genus). The fly injects parasites (Trypanosoma genus) that invade the circulatory and lymphatic systems causing fever and headaches, and if untreated may cause neurologic damage and ultimately death. HAT is endemic in 36 sub-Saharan Africa countries affecting rural populations dependent on agriculture, fishing, animal husbandry or hunting. As such simple, accessible, and accurate field diagnostic tools, improvement of the current toxic drugs, and vigilant surveillance systems are needed. Northeastern University faculty are exploring new approaches to apply existing technology to improve diagnosis.


One of the most infectious diseases, the bacterial disease is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It is transmitted through the air when a person with active TB coughs or sneezes. Half of untreated people die of respiratory conditions. One third of the world’s population is infected with latent M. tuberculosis, and 10 percent develop disease. The majority of cases are in Asia, but Africa bears the largest burden of co-infection with HIV/AIDS. Treatable with a six-month course of antibiotics, low compliance creates an environment favorable for multidrug resistance (MDRTB). Northeastern University faculty are pursuing two strategies for anti‐persister therapies: prodrug discovery and antibiotic potentiation.

Health systems

Since the publication of the 2000 World Health Report on Health Systems, improving the performance of national health systems has become the new panacea for health reforms around the world. From universal coverage to improving health outcomes, health systems’ approaches deviate from traditional verticality of programs focusing on diseases. At the same time, a robust new diagonal approach focusing on the social determinants of health has added a new dimension in global health ethics and governance. Northeastern University faculty are working in Africa on comparative health systems research, universal social health insurance, technical efficiency, and how to improve delivery of supplies and services.

For more details on specific areas of research, visit our Faculty Pages