Parasitology & Education
What are parasites?
The definition of a parasite is a species that benefits at the expense of another host species. This makes the study of parasites both interesting and important, especially given the impact that they can have on human health and well-being. The study of parasites brings together a diverse range of interests, not only to develop ways to protect against parasites (for humans and animals) but also to understand the fundamental biology of these organisms and the ecology of how they can interact with their diverse range of hosts.
Why are they important?
Parasites cause millions of deaths and billions of infections each year, so developing new vaccines and medicines is essential. Equally, a large number of parasites can have a detrimental impact on domesticated and wild animals, creating a significant economic burden associated with treatment. However, as we develop new therapeutics to combat these infections, parasites can acquire drug resistance. Therefore, elucidating how the genes, proteins and cells function in different parasites is vitally important. Equally, understanding the life-cycle of parasites, their complex interactions with hosts, and how these evolve can be key to controlling infections and predicting future outbreaks.
What are we doing about them?
Parasitology research is as diverse as biology itself. Members of the BSP are undertaking lots of different approaches to understand parasites and develop new cures and vaccines. This means that the type of work that our members undertake is highly varied, including collecting samples 'in the field', developing vaccines and therapeutics and DNA sequencing.
Have I got one?
Parasites are much more common than you might think. For example, as many as 4 in 10 children experience infection with threadworms - a small worm parasite that develops in the intestine. Equally, ectoparasites (ie. those that live on the outside of the host) such as lice and ticks are surprisingly prevalent in the UK and other Western societies. Fortunately, these infections are relatively easily treated, but more severe parasitic infections can be acquired whilst visiting endemic areas. The risk of becoming infected can be minimised by avoiding uncooked foods and reducing exposure to biting insects which can transmit many infections. Anyone who thinks they may have acquired a parasitic infection should contact their GP initially, or visit NHS Direct (http://www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/).
How can the BSP help?
The British Society for Parasitology represents the UK community of parasite researchers. The Society arranges regular meetings to discuss our latest research and exchange ideas with colleagues. This means that members of the BSP are up-to-date with the cutting-edge science that goes on across the UK and world-wide.
Additionally, many members of the BSP are keen to engage with the next generation of scientists and are involved in visiting schools, arranging science fairs and hosting visits to research laboratories. The BSP actively encourages these outreach activities and hopes to continue to develop this important aspect of our work. If you would like more information, or to contact a local parasitologist, then contact us.