Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, on Tuesday announced that the National Science Foundation awarded researchers at UCSB nearly $1.5 million to research strategies to help reduce the incidence of schistosomiasis, a major human tropical disease. Their project will target the population of snails that host the parasitic worms that spread the disease.
The transmission of schistosomiasis by parasites from infected snails occurs when people use open water systems for bathing, washing clothes and equipment, tending livestock, farming, or playing and has led to the infection of roughly 300 million people, with an estimated 200,000 deaths per year from the disease around the world.
“It is exciting that researching unfolding here on the Central Coast could one day lessen the impact of deadly diseases like schistosomiasis around the world,” Capps said. “Thanks to this federal NSF grant, researchers at UCSB will be able to take a unique approach in finding a permanent fix for this international issue.”
"Schistosomiasis is a major tropical disease infecting 300 million people with a parasitic worm,” said Professor Armand Kuris from the Department of Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology. “Deaths are about 250,000 people each year and many more people live for years in pain and ill health due to these parasites. Although there is a good drug that can cure people, there is no permanent immunity. People can be reinfected almost immediately following water contact with snail intermediate hosts of these worms. Senegal has perhaps the world's highest infection rates for this serious disease.
“We have developed an approach to prevent further infections using native prawns as biological control predators against the snail intermediate hosts of these worms. Thanks to a four-year, $1.5 million grant from NSF, our team of ecologists, parasitologists, geographers and economists, based at UCSB, will also be able to add economic improvement to the local economies while gaining the important public health benefit.”
More than 95 percent of schistosomiasis infections occur in Africa. This project will be based in the Senegal River ecosystem of western Africa, but the project will also provide insights that will be relevant to stopping the transmission of diseases in rivers and other bodies of water in other locales, including in the United States.
The research team will conduct experiments to determine the effect of prawns on snail abundance and on human infection rates. The project will contribute to cultivation of the prawn as part of the ecosystem recovery and augmentation of natural snail predators.
In terms of socioeconomic and public health impact, schistosomiasis is second only to malaria as the most devastating parasitic disease in tropical countries, according to the Carter Center.
The total grant award is for $1,499,897.
— Chris Meagher is the press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.