Using molecular research to benefit human health

Watch insect researcher Shazia Mahamdallie in this video as she reveals how DNA techniques are helping us understand the spread of a tropical disease called leishmaniasis. 

Warning: This video contains images that some viewers may find upsetting.

What is leishmaniasis?

Leishmaniasis is a disease found in humans, dogs and other animals. It affects 12 million people in 88 countries, mostly in tropical areas. Some forms of the disease can be fatal if left untreated.

How is it spread?

The disease is spread by sandflies. These flies are smaller than mosquitoes. The female sandlfy needs blood to feed her eggs. The parasites that cause leishmaniasis are transferred from animal to animal when the female sucks their blood. So parasites can spread, for example, from dogs to humans.

Museum research

Shazia is studying sandflies and leishmaniasis as part of a 5-year project called EDEN with scientists from 24 countries. She catches sandflies from different countries and identifies them by looking at their body shapes and DNA. This information, as well as where the sandflies were found, is put into digital maps. They also add information about where any dogs are found, the climate and environment.

The maps are then used to predict where people are at risk from leishmaniasis and how climate and environmental change may be linked to the spread of the disease. This helps health authorities find the best way of reducing the spread of leishmaniasis.

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