Leish-L: Forum is an opportunity for integration and information exchange about a neglected disease, emphasizes Jeffrey Shaw

Publicação: 7 de May de 2018

Leish-L’s singularity resides in fact that there are no limits to the nature of the problems that can be addressed by people who work in areas that lack specialists

The Leishmania e-mail discussion list (Leish-L) was the first news group to deal with a disease, as well as being the world’s oldest list dedicated to a group of very diverse and important group of pathogens. Currently Leish-L has 2,625 members

In 1992, only two years after the World Wide Web was launched, Dr. Lois Blain, bioinformatics director at American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), held a meeting at André Tosello Research and Technology Tropical Foundation, in Campinas, Brazil, coordinated by Tropical Data Foundation (BDT), supported by the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and ATCC. The goal was to discuss the methods used to organize information related to strain collections. Professor Jeffrey Jon Shaw, until then Associate Director at the Wellcome Trust Parasitology Unit, was invited to join the event for two reasons: the Wellcome Trust Parasitology Unit had one of the largest American Leishmania collections in the world, stored in liquid nitrogen; and the PAHO knew the computer technology was available in Belém, at the Evandro Chagas Institute. During the meeting, different information management systems were presented, as well as means of electronic communication by e-mail, a completely unknown method for most of the presents.

“After a few days Dr. Lois informed the participants of softwares, that stored and organized information and others that allowed information to be exchanged amongst participants of specialized groups. Her idea was to create groups for different subjects of interest. After discussions, it was decided that each group would focus on the parasite that causes a specific disease, rather than on microorganism collections. Many possibilities were discussed, including Chagas disease and malaria, but it was finally decided to create a group linked to a disease studied by one of the event’s participants. This how, in February 1992, leishmaniasis was chosen”, reminds Dr. Shaw.

Participants returned to their laboratories and begun putting in practice what they had learned in the Campinas meeting. Obviously, the first thing to do was to install e-mail at work. They eagerly waited for the information that the system was ready, but the e-mail with the news never arrived. This way, in November 1992 Professor Shaw offered to act as the contact person, and returned to Campinas to help organize the Leishnet website and electronic bulletin (Leish-L) set-up. The upcoming plan included the creation of a website named the International Leishmania Network – ILN that would contain important information and links on Leishmania and leishmaniasis. The discussion list (Leish-L) was part of the plan. Finally, the first message was submitted by Dr. Dora Anne Lange Canhos, on June 28, 1993, 16 months after the decision to create the leishmaniasis forum.

“Unlike today, in the early 90s it was difficult to find the electronic addresses of authors as they were not automatically included in scientific papers and dissertations as they are today. We used all methods that we could to find researchers and health professionals interested in Leishmania. Once they were identified, we sent e-mails inviting them to join Leish-L and requesting them to encourage other people to join the list as well. Besides this, we created letters and documents in the scientific meetings and sent recruit letters to other forums, whose members could be interested in leishmaniasis”, he says. Still according to Dr. Shaw, most members were researchers from developed countries and they realized that among the enrolled members, there were few experienced and high-level scientists. “This was disappointing, since those experienced people were precisely those who could help ensuring the quality of the discussions. Although the reasons for this are still unclear, at the time we thought our failure owed to the fact that our researchers had their own personal networks, or feeling Leish-L was useless”, he comments.

The Professor explains that the lists created virtual communities, and LISTSERV (L-Soft) and MAILMAN (Python) are now popular tools used by these virtual communities. “There are hundreds of lists in all imaginable topics, with different numbers of subscribers, from fewer than 10 to thousands of people. An important difference between discussion lists and electronic lists is that the latter are under responsibility of the organizers, who ensure their continuity. Discussion lists are created by people interested in a given topic who ensure their quality by monitoring both subscribers and the material that is circulated. This is particularly important given the enormous quantity of spam messages that we have to deal with today”, he observes. According to him, it could be a coincidence, but one of the oldest lists of biological topics, ENTOMOL-L, is headed by an organization, the Guelph University. “This may support the argument that serious discussion lists should be linked to an organization or scientific society to ensure their longevity and success”, he argues.

Asked about the reasons electronic lists have disappeared, the Professor stresses that understanding why this happens would be very useful to find the best way to keep them active and promoting communication between groups of experts, especially in the biological sciences field. “As far as we could determine, Leish-L was the first news group to deal with the disease. The most surprising is that it focuses on a group of neglected diseases and someone would think other news groups dealing with cancer or heart diseases would have preceded it, but that did not happen”, he ends.

He ensures Leish-L is definitely not an idiosyncratic initiative, although it is a time-consuming task. What is special about Leish-L is that it gives individuals, who may lack local expertise the opportunity to ask the advice of specialists in any technical or academic area related to leishmaniasis. “We hope that, when we retire that others will continue moderating Leish-L with the same enthusiasm we have for the world’s oldest list dedicated to a disease caused by very diverse and important group of pathogens”, he ends.

To subscribe to Leish-L, access: http://lineu.icb.usp.br/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/leish-l. However, it is not necessary to be a list member to send a question. Any answers will be sent directly to who asked and they can be viewed in the list´s archives.…