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.
Director of Science