Malaria is the most destructive parasitic illness, by many accounts, but the second most is much less well-known.
Schistosomiasis [shis-tuh-soh-mahy-uh-sis] infects over 250 million people.
It is a common in areas with stagnant water where the where the parasitic flat-worms can enter even unbroken skin and take up residence in a host. The flat worms then produce thousands of eggs per day that can overwhelm the host’s organs. The disease itself is effectively treated with praziquantel but reinfection can occur quickly. This is a disease desperate for a vaccine.
Schistosomiasis is of interest to Maternova because it is particularly harmful to pregnant women and young children as these populations have less developed or compromised immune systems. Repeated infection with schistosomiasis causes anemia and stunted growth. For girls, a specific strain we nickname SCHISTO-H is a threat to the reproductive organs. Furthermore, the scarring and wear and tear caused by SCHISTO-H can also leave girls and women more vulnerable to HIV.
How do you treat schisto? The drug, praziquantel, has been the sole recommended treatment to combat Schistosomiasis and has been around for over 30 years. A concern though, is that this common, effective (and cheap) treatment has not determined to be safe in pregnancy or dosed appropriately for very young children who seem to be much more susceptible to the disease. The [Pediatric Praziquantel Consortium has received nearly $5M from the Japanese GHIT to research a more safe and effective formulation of praziquantel for children](http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/pediatric-praziquantel-consortium-awarded-usd49-million-grant-from-global-health-innovative-technology-fund-505453661.html)
A vaccine is in development that has been proven to be effective in mice and is showing promise in water buffalo. Since this disease is spread in stagnant water contaminated with infected feces, it is thought that human infection would be greatly decreased by vaccinating some of the livestock.
Schistosomiasis is in a grouping of the WHO (World Health Organization) classifies as Neglected Tropical Diseases. Much more research is needed in areas of treatment AND vaccine.
Coming soon, information on rapid testing, and more about some exciting Schistosomiasis research from two Rhode Island researchers.
Paula McGovern and Meg Wirth
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