Exploradio Origins: The Biggest Parasitic Disease You've Never Heard Of

Oct 17, 2019

The schistosome worm causes schistosomiasis, which just might be the biggest parasitic disease you’ve never heard of.

“You get it walking in water that's infected with infectious snails,” said Emmitt Jolly,  associate professor of biology at Case Western Reserve University.

“There are almost 240 million people infected with schistosomes, and about 300,000 people are dying.”

Jolly is unravelling the genetics of the schistosome to find ways to attack it with drugs. Step one is to figure out which genes do what.   

“Our lab developed over-expression technology in schistosomes. You put in a gene, and over-express that gene,” Jolly said. “Whatever targets that that gene normally turns on now get up-regulated, and it gives you a clue as to what the function of that gene is.”

By turning up a gene, or over-expressing it, you make it easier to see what that gene might be doing in the organism. Jolly’s next step is to take advantage of recently developed CRISPR-Cas gene-editing technology, which took longer to get to work in the schistosomes.

“When you talk about something that, all of the single-cell stages are inside an organ, deep inside a vein, inside a human body, or deep inside of a mouse, it becomes a lot more challenging,” Jolly said. “Eventually we will figure this little problem out, and then be able to look at new targets and development therapies for schistosomes.”