Helminths are multicellular parasitic worms that are characterised by either an elongated, flat body (platyhelminths) or by a round body (nemotodes). Like many parasites, helminths have a complex life cycle and develop through egg, larval (juvenile), and adult stages. Helminths live in and feed on living hosts. They receive nourishment and protection while disrupting their hosts' nutrient absorption which can ultimately cause weakness and disease of the infected animal. Helminths can survive in their mammalian hosts for many years due to their ability to manipulate the immune response by secreting immunomodulatory products.
At the WCIP there are two strands of research relating to helminths: one exploring schistosomiasis and its persistence in human populations; the second exploring the immunomodulatory effects of Heligmosomoides polygyrus, a nematode parasite of mice.
Dr Poppy Lamberton and her group work on neglected tropical diseases, such as schistosomiasis and onchocerciasis. Their multidisciplinary work focuses on reducing disease transmission at a community level and improving treatment success and drug efficacy monitoring at an individual level. The Lamberton Lab (https://www.poppylamberton.com/) utilise field epidemiological data, laboratory experiments, parasite population genetics, ethnographic methods, engineering and economics to address applied research questions. Much of their fieldwork is carried out in Uganda.
Professor Rick Maizels and his group are testing the hypothesis that helminth parasites exploit the body's own safety mechanisms which have evolved to minimise the risk of autoimmunity. For example, regulatory T cells naturally arise to limit autoreactivity, but are also associated with chronic helminth infection. The expansion of regulatory T cell populations may underlie the epidemiological association between infection and reduced levels of allergy.
Key WCIP publications
Impacts of host gender on Schistosoma mansoni risk in rural Uganda—A mixed-methods approach (2020). PLoS Negl Trop Dis 14(5). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0008266