Schistosomiasis – finding a way to tackle one of the world’s most harmful diseases

Schistosomiasis, snail fever or bilharzias, is one of the world’s most cruel chronic infectious diseases – second only to malaria in terms of its impact on human lives.

It is caused by the body’s reaction to the eggs of a parasite and kills as many as 300,000 people each year and leads to chronic sickness amongst a further 200 million. Now, by studying its DNA, IBERS scientists have found ways of reducing this parasite’s egg production, offering hope of new treatment opportunities.

Benefits: Hundreds of millions of people across the world – but especially in Africa – will be able to live productive lives instead of taking up scarce health resources.

One form of schistosomiasis is caused by a kind of blood fluke called Schistosoma mansoni. This parasite breeds in freshwater snails and can invade the bodies of humans and lay its eggs inside them. The body’s reaction to the eggs causes the symptoms of the disease that can damage internal organs and hamper a child’s growth and development.

By studying the parasite’s DNA, IBERS scientists have identified one of the most important genomic modifications known in nature. They have additionally found a drug called 5-AzaC that can inhibit this modification and reduce the number of eggs a female produces.

The big picture: IBERS scientists are using the latest knowledge about genes and DNA to understand and combat debilitating
diseases that cause great hardship amongst large populations of people in developing countries. A prime example of pure scientific research working for the benefit of mankind.

Want To Know More?

Professor Karl Hoffmann
+44 (0)1970 622237
krh@aber.ac.uk