Two studies led by UT Southwestern researchers shed light on the biology and potential vulnerabilities of schistosomes — parasitic flatworms that cause the little-known tropical disease schistosomiasis. The findings, published online today in Science, could change the course of this disease that kills up to 250,000 people a year.
About 240 million people around the world have schistosomiasis — mostly children in Africa, Asia, and South America in populations that represent “the poorest of the poor,” says study leader James J. Collins III, Ph.D., associate professor in UTSW’s department of pharmacology.
Most of those infected survive, but those who die often suffer organ failure or parasite-induced cancer. Symptoms can be serious enough to keep people from living productive lives, Collins says.
The parasite that causes this disease has a complicated life cycle that involves stages in both freshwater snails and mammals. Dwelling in mammalian hosts’ circulatory systems, schistosomes feed