Reducing Schistosoma mansoni reinfection in rural Uganda: Who’s infecting whom and where?

Keywords: Schistosomiasis; population genetics; genomics; transmission dynamics; rapid ethnographic appraisal; malacology; WASH; Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene.

Project Summary: Over 240 million people are infected with schistosomiasis. It causes severe long-term morbidity and exacerbates the poverty cycle. Schistosoma mansoni miracidia hatch in freshwater from eggs in human stool, they reproduce asexually in snails, and produce cercariae that infect humans when they contact infested water through activities such as washing clothes, playing etc. The World Health Organization recommends >75% of school-aged children (SAC) receive mass drug administration (MDA) to prevent morbidity. Despite a decade of school-based MDA in Uganda, children are rapidly (re)infected and schistosomiasis hotspots remain. This interdisciplinary PhD focuses on three main objectives to address: How can we reduce (re)infection in these children?

Objective 1: Locate, using rapid ethnographic appraisals, where children are getting (re)infected.

Objective 2: Characterise, using parasite population genetics/genomics, which groups/individuals are contributing to these (re)infections.

Objective 3: Identify group/individual behaviours that put children at risk and how risk might be reduced.

Social science, field epidemiology, and molecular biology population genetics/genomics techniques will be used during the PhD to understand where children are (re)infected, who is contaminating these areas, and how contamination can be reduced.

Project Team - The student will be part of a team addressing how to reduce transmission and improve individual treatment success within Ugandan hotspot areas (funded in part by the Lead Supervisor, Dr Lamberton’s, European Research council grant SCHISTO_PERSIST). The student will be based in the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health & Comparative Medicine (BAHCM) and the Wellcome Trust Centre for Molecular Parasitology (WTCMP) in the Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences College at the University of Glasgow, and co-supervised by Dr Lucy Pickering and Prof. Sally Wyke in the Institute of Health and Wellbeing within the College of Social Science.  Molecular laboratory work and analyses will take place in WTCMP and BAHCM. Field work will take place in three primary schools in Mayuge District Uganda, on the shores of Lake Victoria, joining Dr Lamberton’s ongoing studies and field teams. Field work will be in collaboration with Dr Tukahebwa at the Ugandan Ministry of Health, whilst molecular work will be performed alongside and with the guidance and support of Dr Christina Faust, BAHCM. Funds are available for training courses in population genetics and anthropology methods, and the successful candidate will have full access to teaching resources within both Colleges, as well as the respective graduate student activities and training schemes.

PhD candidate - Suzan Trienekens