Parasites have a powerful grip on the health and economy of the world. Their influence on human health is dramatic as they account for much of the tropical disease burden. The diseases they cause are pervasive amongst the poorest and most under-privileged people on the planet, locking them in a cycle of disability and poverty. They infect in excess of 1 billion people and each year many are killed or disabled by these diseases - children are most at risk. Further, the negative impact of parasites on livestock animal health/welfare and on plant crop health seriously undermines food production systems and poses a direct threat to global food security.
The Parasitology Theme exploits fundamental research on parasite biology to advance the discovery of new anti-parasite drugs and vaccines and to help develop novel strategies for parasite control. The research team encompasses nine principal investigators with a diversity of applied and basic research expertise spanning: biochemistry and proteomics; cell biology and genetics; drug/vaccine target discovery and validation; immunomodulation; neurobiology and behaviour; therapeutics and control; ultrastructure/bioimaging; vaccine development; veterinary parasitology and epidemiology.
Major research programmes centre on: the discovery of new flukicides; the development of first generation liver fluke vaccines; understanding liver fluke behaviour, genetics and resistance; parasite cathepsin biochemistry; parasite immunomodulation; the disruption of locomotion in parasitic nematodes; sensory function and social communication in plant parasites; novel transgenic approaches to plant nematode control.
In recent years Dr Alan Trudgett's research has concentrated on ways to control the spread of the flatworm Fasciola hepatica (the Common Liver Fluke). This parasite causes major economic losses to agriculture – estimated at greater than $3 billion per annum - and is responsible for the infection of up to 17 million people each year. Biochemical, molecular biological and genetic techniques have been combined with immunolocalisation and scanning and transmission electron microscopy to investigate the action of anti-parasitic drugs and on the liver fluke and to determine the mechanisms underlying the development of resistance to these drugs. In addition to addressing matters relating directly to animal and human health and welfare these studies have contributed to our understanding of the dynamic ecological interactions between liver fluke populations and their snail and mammal hosts.