Helminths, or parasitic worms, including nematodes, flukes and tapeworms, collectively infect approximately 2 billion people worldwide, or about a third of the world’s population. The majority of infected people reside in developing countries in tropical and temperate climates, where helminths remain a significant public health concern and hamper socioeconomic development. Blood flukes of the genus Schistosoma are particularly prevalent in much of the developing world, with at least 250 million people infected with parasites that cause severe liver, intestine, and urogenital system pathology. In visitors from non-endemic areas, such as U.S. service personnel, schistosomes can cause an acute febrile illness that can be life-threatening. There is no vaccine or drug treatment that can prevent schistosomiasis, and only one partially effective drug is available to treat established infections.
Inside the Lab
The long-term objective of our studies is to develop new immunotherapies and chemotherapies aimed at inhibiting schistosome development in the human host, thus simultaneously preventing the pathology associated with schistosome infection and blocking parasite transmission. Our studies using a mouse model of Schistosoma mansoni infection have demonstrated that, paradoxically, schistosomes require signals from host immune cells to complete their development normally, suggesting that blocking interactions between schistosomes and host cells might provide a novel approach to interfere with parasite development. Currently we are focused on further understanding how schistosomes interact with host immune cells and how host responses modulate schistosome signal transduction and gene expression.
"Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman."