Date Published: July 30, 2008
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Fred A. Lewis, Yung-san Liang, Nithya Raghavan, Matty Knight, Alex Loukas
Abstract: A bench scientist studying schistosomiasis must make a large commitment to maintain the parasite’s life cycle, which necessarily involves a mammalian (definitive) host and the appropriate species of snail (intermediate host). This is often a difficult and expensive commitment to make, especially in the face of ever-tightening funds for tropical disease research. In addition to funding concerns, investigators usually face additional problems in the allocation of sufficient lab space to this effort (especially for snail rearing) and the limited availability of personnel experienced with life cycle upkeep. These problems can be especially daunting for the new investigator entering the field. Over 40 years ago, the National Institutes of Health–National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH-NIAID) had the foresight to establish a resource from which investigators could obtain various schistosome life stages without having to expend the effort and funds necessary to maintain the entire life cycle on their own. This centralized resource translated into cost savings to both NIH-NIAID and to principal investigators by freeing up personnel costs on grants and allowing investigators to divert more funds to targeted research goals. Many investigators, especially those new to the field of tropical medicine, are only vaguely, if at all, aware of the scope of materials and support provided by this resource. This review is intended to help remedy that situation. Following a short history of the contract, we will give a brief description of the schistosome species provided, provide an estimate of the impact the resource has had on the research community, and describe some new additions and potential benefits the resource center might have for the ever-changing research interests of investigators.
Partial Text: Our core resource laboratory maintains the three schistosome species that inflict the greatest human disease burden: Schistosoma mansoni, S. haematobium, and S. japonicum. Figure 1 shows the three species of snails (intermediate hosts) used for maintaining the three schistosome species above.
It would be impossible to give an accurate number of publications in experimental schistosomiasis that have been made possible through the use of this resource over the 40-plus years of its existence. Certainly it would be in the thousands. At least two barometers, however, can give some idea of its impact on the schistosomiasis research community. Browsing through the past 10 years of presentations in experimental schistosomiasis from the annual meetings of The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) shows that roughly 80% of those presentations were from laboratories that have relied upon material support from this resource. Another indication of its importance comes from PubMed searches. Over the last 3 years, approximately 90% of the experimental schistosomiasis papers are from laboratories relying on these materials.
In recent years, additions have been made to the contract to meet other needs in schistosomiasis research.
From its beginning, the NIH-NIAID-supported core schistosomiasis resource center has been a major driving force in the progress of schistosomiasis research. Not only has this been important in helping to decrease the health burden of schistosomiasis, but investigators are increasingly appreciating that a schistosome infection provides a good model system for studying a variety of inflammatory, allergic, and granulomatous diseases. For example, S. mansoni infection in mice provides an elegant model for helping unravel contributions of separate helper T cell populations (Th1 and Th2) in the development of asthma, allergic inflammation, and fibrosis . Thus, laboratory studies of schistosomiasis are leading to advances in medicine that likely will have implications far beyond that of controlling the disease itself. Availability of this schistosome resource thus can serve as a foundation for individuals, not only in tropical medicine research, but in many diverse areas of basic medical research.