The researchers will receive a 6.9 million euro grant from the European Commission for the project as part of the Horizon Europe program
Parasitic worm infections cause major health problems in hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Yet there are no vaccines available that can prevent the infections. A group of international researchers, led by the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), wants to change this.
Research into vaccines against parasitic worms (also called helminths) is still very limited. Based on studies with volunteers who were exposed to helminths in a controlled and safe manner, scientists are only just beginning to know something about how people’s immune response to worms works. The researchers now also want to apply this acquired knowledge to the development of vaccines. To do this, they will use the latest methods, such as the mRNA technology that has also been used for some corona vaccines.
Contamination occurs after skin contact with larvae
The focus of the project, called WORMVACS2.0, will be on hookworm and schistosome infections. According to the latest estimates, 500 to 800 million people are infected with hookworms and about 250 million with schistosomes. The infections mainly occur in tropical and subtropical areas.
Infection with hookworms occurs when people’s skin comes into contact with larvae in the soil. The litter then settles in the intestines. Schistosomes also penetrate through the skin, but after contact with larvae that live in fresh water, excreted by freshwater snails. The parasites penetrate the skin and the worms settle in the bloodstream.
Severe inflammation and damage to organs
The infections lead to general health problems and debilitation. Schistosomes in particular can cause severe inflammation and damage to organs such as the liver. Treatment of the worm infections with medications is possible, but because they do not induce effective immune responses, people in areas where the parasites occur continuously become re-infected. Vaccines can help break that cycle.
‘Vaccines needed to fight devastating diseases’
Researchers from several institutes in Europe, the United States, Africa and Australia are working together on the project. LUMC professor Cornelis Hokke is coordinator of the consortium: “Helminth infections cause major health problems worldwide. Vaccines will be a crucial addition to our toolbox to combat and prevent these devastating diseases.”
The researchers will receive a 6.9 million euro grant from the European Commission for the project as part of the Horizon Europe program. For more information, visit wormvacs.org.
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