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Professor Richard Grencis and Professor Alison Elliott

Professor Richard Grencis from the University of Manchester was awarded an International Collaboration Award to work with Professor Alison Elliott in Uganda.

The parasite paradox: do worm infections protect against diabetes and cardiovascular diseases? Establishment of an integrated field and experimental programme.

Professor Richard Grencis and Professor Alison Elliott with their team in Uganda

“Parasitic worms infect a third of all people and cause widespread, often subtle, illness. Control by mass drug administration is in progress, however humans co-evolved with worms which survive for decades in their hosts by altering host immune responses.  Elimination of parasitic worms from their hosts creates an abnormal immuno-endocrine environment which paradoxically may promote diabetes, affecting 14 million adults in Africa, and cardiovascular disease which is second only to HIV as cause of death in African adults.

We hypothesise that beneficial consequences of parasitic worms in humans include improved regulation of immune and metabolic processes which reduce the risk of diabetes and vascular disease.  Our scientific goal, and immediate impact, will be to understand this paradox. 

We will use samples from a unique de-worming trial in Uganda and basic studies in mouse models in Manchester to investigate whether this is true, and identify underlying mechanisms. We also aim to address the critical deficit in basic biological science research capacity in developing countries.  Empowering developing country researchers to identify and address emerging threats is key to prevent local, regional and global health emergencies.

Professor Elliott and I had already worked together on research capacity building for Uganda and the sub-Saharan African region and were very much aware of each other’s research work.  We felt that we had highly complementary skills – my group in the precise and detailed work on worm-mammal interactions possible in mouse models, and Professor Elliott’s group in clinical and field-based immuno-epidemiological studies addressing the impact of worms in human populations.  We are keen to work together to capitalise on lessons learned in each context in iterative studies designed to understand the realities of the impact of helminth infections on human health.

Our project will provide immediate impact for knowledge and long-term impact for the development of interventions against leading current and emerging causes of morbidity and mortality in developing countries.

The project will also provide immediate impact for individuals in Uganda and the UK in terms of training opportunities and experience, and will contribute to the longer-term impact on basic and translational research capacity for Africa”.

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