International partnership to develop vaccine for parasitic diseases affecting millions
Professor Karl Hoffmann, Director of the Barrett Centre for Helminth Control at Aberystwyth University.
24 November 2023
A new international partnership has been established to develop a vaccine for parasitic diseases which infect hundreds of millions of people.
The project, involving academics from Aberystwyth University, will be focused on hookworm and schistosome infections that affect tropical and subtropical areas of the world.
According to the latest estimates, 500-800 million people are infected with hookworms, and approximately 250 million with schistosomes every year.
These infections, caused by parasitic worms or helminths, are usually spread through contact with contaminated fresh water and lead to various health problems. Schistosomes in particular can cause severe inflammation and damage to organs, killing an estimated 12,000 people annually.
Drugs for treatment of these infections are available but, due to the lack of development of immunity, people living in areas where these parasites occur get continuously reinfected. Vaccines can help to disrupt this cycle.
However, research and development of vaccines against parasitic helminths has so far been limited, with the mechanisms of human immune responses not well understood.
The new project, which is a collaboration between researchers of various institutes in Europe, Africa, the US, and Australia, will apply fresh insights from more recent studies of immunity to the development of vaccines.
The researchers will investigate new ways to identify the best molecular targets for the vaccines as well as optimising the treatment, including the mRNA platform that came to public attention during the Covid pandemic.
The project has received €6.9 million funding from the European Commission’s Horizon Europe programme.
Leiden University Medical Centre professor Cornelis ‘Ron’ Hokke, coordinator of the consortium commented:
“Helminth infections cause a massive global health burden. The discovery and development of effective vaccines and an innovative helminth vaccine development pipeline will provide essential contributions to our toolbox for control and prevention of these devastating diseases.”
Professor Karl Hoffmann, Director of the Barrett Centre for Helminth Control at Aberystwyth University, added:
“We are delighted to be sharing our long-standing expertise in this field of the research as part of this important partnership. Parasitic helminths cause some of the most disfiguring, debilitating and chronic infectious diseases of human populations across the globe. They kill thousands of people annually and lead to the suffering of millions more. So, working in partnership across the world like this, to develop vaccines is vitally important.”