Schistosomes infect over 200 million of the world's poorest people
Schistosomes are parasitic flatworms that cause disease and death in millions of people. These parasites infect people in parts of South America and Asia, but the overwhelming majority of infections occur in sub-Saharan Africa. The disease these parasites cause is called Schistosomiasis (a.k.a Bilharzia or Snail Fever). Schistosomiasis is just one of a group of diseases known as Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) that disproportionately affect the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
Here in the Collins Lab, we believe that understanding the basic biology of this organism is key to developing the next generation of anti-schistosome drugs and vaccines. We also contend that by studying the basic biology of these fascinating organisms, we can better understand important basic biological processes common to all animals, including humans. For that reason, we study schistosomes from multiple angles using a variety of modern molecular approaches.
What is a schistosome?
Schistosomes are flatworms but come in all shapes and sizes depending on which stage of their lifecycle they are in. Hover over each image to discover out what each image represents.
What are the symptoms of schistosomiasis?
Although schistosomes are thought to kill an estimated 250,000 people every year, perhaps the greatest tragedy is the chronic disability associated with infection. Those with the most serious symptoms are often children who can suffer from malnutrition, anemia, stunted cognitive and physical development, physical pain/discomfort, and chronic inflammation. Diseases like schistosomiasis may also enhance the probability of contracting diseases like HIV/AIDS though sexual contact. The cumulative effect is that those who are chronically infected are effectively robbed of their ability to lead productive lives, condemning themselves (and likely their families) to a life of poverty. Being impoverished then enhances the likelihood that these people are exposed to diseases like schistosomiasis. This perpetuates a seemingly endless cycle of disease and poverty.
What is the treatment for schistosomiasis?
Treatment of schistosomiasis relies on a single drug called Praziquantel. While Praziquantel is effective at clearing a schistosome infection it is far from a magic bullet. Praziquantel doesn’t prevent people from becoming re-infected next time they step into the water and there is concern that resistance to the drug may arise. It is clear that ridding the world of schistosomes will require the implementation of multiple strategies including (but not limited to): the development of new drugs and/or vaccines, improved sanitation, control of the snail populations, and education in the developing world about how the disease is transmitted.