Date Published: December 26, 2007
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Daniel G. Colley, W. Evan Secor, Juerg Utzinger
Abstract: There is a long and rich history of research and control in the field of schistosomiasis that has resulted in major scientific and public health accomplishments. Examples of such findings and accomplishments include immunologic regulation in chronic infections , the association of helminth infections with Th1-regulating Th2-type immune responses , the critical role of interleukin-13 in fibrogenesis , and the development and validation of the “dose pole” for determining praziquantel dosages in the field ,. Perhaps in part because of this broad and successful history, those who work on schistosomiasis come from a wide variety of backgrounds and interests. While such variety is enriching to the field, it sometimes results in diverse opinions about which of the many research opportunities should be pursued. Such diversity, we believe, has at times led to a divisiveness that has harmed overall progress in the field. Partly in response to such events, we have worked with as many of those interested in schistosomiasis as we could identify to develop what we feel is a comprehensive and cohesive agenda for schistosomiasis research (Image 1).
Partial Text: We did not develop such an agenda as an attempt to work around or displace other efforts to organize schistosomiasis-related programs (for example, existing research or control networks or the current agenda set by the World Health Organization [WHO] or the UNICEF/UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Programme on Research and Training in Tropical Diseases [TDR]). In fact, this agenda was developed with full knowledge and input from some of these existing programs. Nor is this agenda a means to obtain funding or to provide a priority listing of what kind of schistosomiasis research is needed to achieve given, spelled-out objectives, although we hope that the agenda may eventually be used to further both of these goals. Rather, we initiated this effort to help advance schistosomiasis research by enhancing cooperation and communication among the community of investigators interested in this neglected tropical disease, with the eventual goal of making stronger contributions to both biomedical science and public health.
The possible development of a comprehensive schistosomiasis research agenda was first discussed in a symposium at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Washington, D. C., in December 2005. This symposium actually followed by a month a meeting of the WHO/TDR Scientific Working Group (SWG) on Schistosomiasis, held in Geneva in November 2005. Both coordinators of the current agenda participated fully in the SWG on Schistosomiasis, and we strongly encourage interested readers to read the recently published proceedings from that meeting of 63 investigators and public health officials . Following the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene symposium, the two of us then wrote an initial draft based on e-mail-solicited input received from first 22, then 110, and eventually over 150 people in the field. From January 2006 until now a total of about 350 people involved in schistosomiasis-related work were asked by e-mail for their input. We also presented the draft agenda for discussion in two open fora, first at the XIth International Congress of Parasitology Associations in Glasgow, Scotland (August 2006), and then at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene meeting in Atlanta, Georgia (November 2006).
From one perspective, the new agenda may appear to be nothing more than an exhaustive “laundry list” of every type of study needed on schistosomiasis. The agenda also has elements that could be applied to almost any neglected tropical disease. Nevertheless, almost the entire schistosomiasis community participated in its development, trying to make the distinct parts fit a united whole. The agenda is not an attempt to prioritize one discipline of schistosomiasis research over another. We specifically avoided doing this because it is unlikely that any one funding agency would be interested in programs across the entire spectrum. In addition, we believe that attempts to prioritize specific areas of research from this broad agenda would prove to be unproductive and would create unnecessary factions. However, it may be valuable for researchers within one arena—for example, vaccine development or transmission dynamics—to use the agenda to prioritize research needs within their own field. It may also be useful for a group of individuals to take components from different sections of the agenda that fit well together and then approach funding agencies with linked components from the agenda. For example, a group of investigators who wanted to work together on development of a new, more sensitive, robust, field-applicable assay for active infection could merge relevant aspects of the agenda into a plan that spans genomics through field testing, including community acceptability, and then take that plan forward to a funding agency. If the consensus agenda is utilized in developing the proposal, both the group of investigators and the funding agency would be reassured that its foundation arose from the group effort of literally hundreds of experts in the field.
The agenda is not intended to be a static document. Rather, if it is to be relevant to the community, topics and approaches must be added and removed as new discoveries are made. The overarching goal of the agenda is to be inclusive of all those aspects of schistosomiasis-related research that are considered by the schistosomiasis community to be worthwhile, from both a basic scientific perspective and, obviously, in relationship to ultimate disease and infection control. We also hope to work with the Public Library of Science (PLoS) to create a schistosomiasis community portal based upon the online functionality in the recently launched PLoS ONE journal (http://www.plosone.org/), in which readers can annotate the literature, start discussion threads, and upload their own editorial commentaries. Through such an interactive process of community interchange, the new schistosomiasis research agenda can be continually commented upon, rearranged, and rewritten, as needs be.
This schistosomiasis research agenda resulted from querying of about 350 investigators and officials who care deeply about schistosomiasis. It reflects the breadth and depth of their perspectives on what is worth doing or finding out about schistosomes, their hosts, and how they interact. The agenda spans topics from social science to genomics. The true purpose of the agenda, and the process leading up to it, is not to debate whether one perspective is more important than another, but to help organize the schistosome community to move forward together. Through such discussions and collaborations, we hope to maximize the available resources (people, funds, field sites, outside experts, data sharing) and eventually better publicize the need for all research on this important disease, which in addition to advancing global public health efforts also has much to offer to fundamental biomedical knowledge. In addition, we hope that this will be an inclusive and living agenda. To make the latter attribute come true we invite readers of PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases to annotate this preamble and the agenda itself, to start discussion threads based on individual components of the agenda, and to submit electronic letters to the editor concerning various aspects of the agenda. In addition, through the auspices of PLoS ONE and the community portals it will offer by next year, we hope that the agenda will serve as one focal point for interactive interchange among the schistosomiasis community, and thus provide a foundation for true collaborations within and across the spectrum of research to control of schistosomiasis.