May 17, 2017

Aberystwyth University scientists contribute to combating deadly disease

Scientists at Aberystwyth University have joined an international effort to combat a deadly tropical disease which kills 200,000 people every year.

Researchers at Aberystwyth University’s Barrett Centre for Helminth Control (BCHC) at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences have been studying the Biomphalaria glabrata snail, which transmits a tropical disease called schistosomiasis – also known as Bilharzia. The scientists are characterising the genome of this snail that’s responsible for passing on a parasite that kills 200,000 people every year.

There are currently more than 600 million people living in Africa, Asia and South America infected by the highly-pathogenic blood fluke worm, and this research is expected to contribute to the World Health Organisation’s goal of eliminating schistosomiasis as a global health problem by 2025.

Professor Hoffmann – part of the BCHC team – explains, “These findings open up the possibility of controlling schistosomiasis by encouraging or engineering these natural microbes to turn against the snail, thereby reducing snail numbers and parasite transmission in endemic areas.”

In a parallel investigation the same Aberystwyth University team has helped identify a set of genes that are used by the snail to control normal biological processes, including snail reproduction. The team has found that the parasite is able to re-program the normal functioning of these snail control genes. Dr Geyer from the BCHC team says, “We believe that it is possible to combat the parasite by manipulating these genes so that energy can be taken away from snail reproduction and instead provided to boost snail immunity, ultimately limiting the transmission of schistosomiasis in endemic areas.”

The Aberystwyth team and its international partners – including University of Aberdeen, Brunel University, Kingston University, the Natural History Museum, the European Bioinformatics Institute and Westminster University – is now working towards extending these findings into solutions for controlling snail numbers in schistosomiasis endemic areas.

Find out more about Aberystwyth University’s Barrett Centre for Helminth Control (BCHC).

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Content added on 17th May 2017. 

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