The Uganda Schistosomiasis Symposium brought together researchers working on schistosomiasis over four days, to share exciting science, provide cutting-edge training, and to raise the profile of controlled human helminth infection studies in Africa for vaccine development.
The symposium opened with a presentation by Dr Edridah Tukahebwa on the work of the Uganda Schistosomiasis Multidisciplinary Research Center, part of the Tropical Medicine Research Centers Network (TMRC), focused on building expertise and understanding of the underlying biological determinants of severe schistosomiasis morbidity. This was followed by Dr Alfred Mubangizi, Vector Control Division of the Ministry of Health of Uganda, who described the current situation regarding schistosomiasis in Uganda, with 93 out of 146 districts endemic for schistosomiasis and the MoH’s Neglected Tropical Diseases control and elimination Master plan.
Following this introduction to schistosomiasis in Uganda, the symposium covered a series of exciting research presentations looking at multidisciplinary approaches, leveraging social sciences, and demographic and genomic data, to understand the determinants of schistosomiasis morbidity and epidemiology. The final presentation of the day (1) gave an overview of the current status of vaccine development for schistosomiasis, highlighting that in 2016, Science Magazine ranked developing a schistosomiasis vaccine in the top 10 vaccine priorities.
Day 2 was equally full of exciting and innovative presentations with a focus on Controlled human infection (CHI) studies for helminths and the morbidity caused by schistosomiasis. At the end of Day 2, secondary school students from Entebbe had the opportunity to tour the laboratories at the Uganda Virus Research Institute and watched a demonstration of different life stages of Schistosoma led by Prossy Kabuubi (MRC/UVRI and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit), and Dr Fiona Allan (University of St Andrews and Natural History Museum, London).
One of my favourite talks was on Day 3, covering Snails 101. Professor Russell Stothard started the day by raising the question: What is the difference between Malacology & Medical Malacology? Prof. Stothard gave an important overview of marvellous molluscs, highlighting how understanding their genomics, reproduction, morphology (e.g. the importance of shell chirality) is crucial to understand the biology, epidemiology and elimination of schistosomiasis. Medical malacology is a fascinating discipline.
Throughout the symposium, early-career researchers presented posters on their research in progress. On the final day, awards were given to the best posters, with PhD student Emmanuella Driciru awarded Best Poster Presentation for her research on setting up a laboratory production process for single-sex schistosomes to accelerate vaccine development for schistosomiasis.
This was the first Uganda Schistosomiasis Symposium, filled to the brim with exciting, innovative and vital research, training, discussions and outreach activities to encourage STEM literacy and careers in the next generation. We hear there will soon be an online piece sharing highlights from the exciting research presented in this symposium – Watch this space!
Can’t wait for the next symposium!