A step closer to eliminating a water-borne parasitic disease

Schistosomiasis, also known as snail fever and bilharzia, kills around 200,000 people each year. Researchers, among them Joris Koene, have identified a number of crucial processes of the intermediate snail host and publish about it in Nature Communications.

05/16/2017 | 2:11 PM

An international research team, with Coenraad Adema (University of New Mexico) in the lead, analysed the entire genome of the freshwater snail that hosts the larval stage of the bilharzia parasite. By identifying a number of crucial processes in this snail’s biology, the team gathered understanding on how the snail transmits this lethal parasite. More importantly, the researchers revealed entirely new pathways to stop the parasite’s transmission in the near future.

Schistosomiasis, also known as snail fever and bilharzia, kills around 200,000 people each year. This water-borne parasitic disease uses a rather innocent freshwater snail, the Ram’s horn snail Biomphalaria glabrata, as host for its larval stage. Since there is currently only a single go-to drug to combat the adult parasite, for which resistance is already reported, alternatives are urgently needed. To achieve this, a full understanding of the biology of the intermediate snail host of this parasite is thought to be key, as this will point to potential approaches for more effective control of these snails, thereby limiting the transmission of schistosomiasis. The World Health Organization (WHO) aims to eliminate this disease by 2025.

“For example, we identify potential targets for specifically disrupting the reproductive physiology. This allows us to develop alternative control measures for this snail species”, explains Dr. Joris M. Koene of the VU’s Department of Ecology, one of the consortium members. The genome publication in Nature Communications identifies several potential targets for developing novel control measures aimed at reducing snail-mediated transmission of schistosomiasis, thus bringing the WHO goal a step closer.

Photo: Biomphalaria glabrata, copyright Levesque & Koene.