University of Dundee

New funding to boost deadly disease research

19 Jan 2022

A parasitic infection that affects millions of people around the world is to be targeted by a £2.5 million drug discovery programme at the Universities of Dundee, Aberystwyth and Cardiff.

Schistosomiasis, also known as Bilharzia, is a parasitic infection caused by tiny flatworms that live within the blood vessels around either the intestines or bladder. The infection is found in many tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world and is estimated to cause more than 230 million clinical cases every year.

The project will be conducted as part of the Wellcome HIT-NTD Flagship, which seeks to develop new drugs for the treatment of some of the most neglected parasitic diseases in the world.

Schistosomiasis causes chronic ill health and, in children, it can cause growth stunting and cognitive development issues. Directly or indirectly, schistosomiasis is responsible for about 200,000 deaths per year.

The parasite which causes schistosomiasis has a complex life cycle, living both in humans and some aquatic snails. People become infected through contact with water infested with infected snails. There is only one drug registered to tackle this infection, demonstrating an urgent need for new drugs.

This new project aims to develop new assays to speed up the preclinical drug discovery process and to progress some chemical start points to identify compounds with potential to treat the disease. It brings together scientists from the Drug Discovery Unit at the University of Dundee (Ian Gilbert, Beatriz Baragaña, Kevin Read), the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Cardiff University (Andrea Brancale) and parasitologists from the Aberystwyth University (Karl Hoffmann).

The research is aligned with the World Health Organisation’s aim to eliminate schistosomiasis by 2030 and with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to improve health and access to clean water.

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