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The Parasites and Vectors division in Life Sciences  has been re-designated as the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Identification & Characterization of Schistosome Strains & their Snail Intermediate Hosts until December 2016.  This is in recognition of the importance of their work and expertise on Schistosoma species, the parasitic blood flukes that cause  the debilitating disease schistosomiasis, and is a good example of how the NHM contributes to the solution of global problems of health and wellbeing.

 

The group has had a  long-standing research focus on Schistosoma parasites, initially born from research on the molluscan (snail) intermediate  hosts and host-parasite interactions. Schistosomes have a two-host life cycle  involving an intermediate snail host and a definitive vertebrate host. The  relationship between the schistosomes and the snail is such that precise  identifications of both are required in order to understand the transmission  and the epidemiology of the disease. By researching the factors involved in Schistosoma parasite - snail host infection dynamics, the  team can provide expert advice to countries affected by schistosomiasis.

 

What is schistosomiasis?  A staggering number of people are infected by  schistosomes, over 200 million people worldwide with over 700 million people at  risk of infection. It is a disease of low socio-economic status, affecting the  poorest communities and most neglected, vulnerable people; it is therefore  classified as a neglected tropical disease (NTD). Infants and children are  especially prone to infection and the damage caused by schistosomes can lead to  blood in urine, painful urination, diarrhoea, bloody stool, anaemia, stunted  growth, enlarged liver and spleen, bladder and liver damage. In certain cases  early childhood infections can lead to bladder cancer and liver fibrosis in  adulthood. Over 90% of infected  people live in sub-Saharan Africa, and the NHM team concentrates its research  efforts in areas such as Tanzania, Niger and Senegal, working with teams in  country to help find better solutions to reduce the impact of this debilitating  disease.

 

Research at the NHM - The group at the Museum  is involved in a number of collaborations with research organisations here and  overseas:

 

  • SCORE -  The Schistosomiasis  Consortium for Operational Research and Evaluation (SCORE), funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates  Foundation aims to aid national control programs by defining the best intervention  methods and cost effective strategies for schistosomiasis control in  sub-Saharan Africa. Part of the research undertaken at the NHM monitors the  impact of Praziquantel (the only oral drug effective in treating all forms of schistosomiasis  in sub-Saharan Africa), on parasite populations, in order to monitor for the  potential development of drug resistance.
  • SCAN -  The Museum, with funding from the Wellcome Trust, has set up a rapidly  expanding schistosome repository called SCAN (Schistosomiasis Collection at the  NHM) which preserves and documents schistosome samples collected from Africa in  order to provide material for researchers both within and outside the Museum.  
  • ZEST -  ZEST (Zanzibar  Elimination of Schistosomiasis Transmission) is being led collaboratively by  the Zanzibar Ministry of Health and the Museum’s David Rollinson (funded by  SCORE), director of the NHM -WHO collaborating Centre. This ambitious programme  is attempting to eliminate schistosomiasis – the first time in a sub-Saharan  African country.

 

London Centre for  Neglected Tropical Disease Research - The Museum is also a  founding member of the new London Centre for Neglected Tropical Disease  Research, launched on the 30 January 2013 in collaboration with the London School  of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Imperial College. This important new  initiative is a valuable step forward as it brings together world-class skills  and expertise to answer important research questions concerning the biology and  control of neglected tropical diseases in partnership with governments, the  private sector, academic institutions and other key NTD centres.

 

 

Ian Owens
Director of Science