Schistosomiasis Research in Kenya
Boda boda workers in Lake Victoria, Kenya
Since arriving at the UNM Biology Department in 1985, Dr. Eric (Sam) Loker has initiated and maintained a continuously funded program of schistosomiasis research, much of it focused in East Africa, and particularly Kenya, where he has collaborated for over 20 years with scientists working at KEMRI. The following are highlights of these activities:
- Currently Dr. Loker, along with Dr. Gerald Mkoji of KEMRI, have an active RO1 Grant entitled Evo-epidemiology of Schistosoma mansoni in western Kenya, devoted to studying the intricacies of epidemiology of schistosomiasis in and around Lake Victoria. This proposal focuses on development of new molecular tools that enable the genotype of individual schistosome progeny coming from human hosts to be directly determined, permitting unique insights into effective worm population sizes in human subjects and the extent to which S. mansoni populations in individual patients are genetically distinct from those in other individuals. This has important implications for how traits, such as those associated with emergence of drug resistance, might eventually be propagated. This is more than a hypothetical concern, since recently collected isolates of S. mansoni from Kenya are difficult to kill with praziquantel.
- Since 1987, he has also undertaken a number of other schistosomiasis studies in Kenya, including mapping the distributions of some of the important snail vectors of schistosomiasis, exploring the possible implementation of biological measures to control schistosomiasis. and studies of schistosome biogeography and phylogeny. During this interval, a number of Kenyan investigators have visited the Loker lab at UNM, and several of Dr. Loker’s postdoctoral fellows and graduate students have worked in Kenya.
- In addition, there are three other RO1 projects centered in the Loker lab that focus on the immunobiology of snail-schistosome interactions that employ techniques such as, RNAi, proteomics, microarray analysis, and genomics to explore ways of interrupting schistosome transmission in snails. These projects, and the people undertaking them, provide another logical connection to UNM’s emerging global health program, and allow transfer of new technologies to scientists from developing countries.