We in the Western world hear very little about schistosomiasis, much less worry about it. This breathtakingly beautiful video shows us why we should learn to pronounce its name -and why we should be thinking about it.
The sand animation shown in the video was the work of Shelly Xie, a newly minted Stanford alumna. Xie spent two of her undergraduate years working as a student researcher in the lab of schistosomiasis investigator Michael Hsieh, MD, PhD. It looks as though she's absorbed his ambition to vanquish schistosomiasis.
More than 200 million people - most of them in Africa and the majority of them children between 5 and 14 years old - have this organ-destroying infection, which is endemic in Ghana and many tropical locales. It comes from wading or swimming in bodies of water that are infested with a tiny parasitic worm.
There's a good drug for schistosomiasis, praziquantel. But the lack of infrastructure necessary for delivering drugs to the places where it's needed is daunting. Fewer than 10 percent of infected individuals get treated for it. And, says Hsieh:
Historically, we know that infections with only one good drug will eventually feature drug resistance, which would be a disaster. There is no vaccine, by the way.
Hsieh's lab is actively collaborating with other kindred groups around the world to develop new drugs and diagnostics for the disease. I blogged recently about his development of an improved mouse model of schistosomiasis infection, which could kick-start drug development.
Meanwhile, best to keep your shoes on when you're in the tropics.
Previously: A good mouse model for a bad worm