Classified as the deadliest neglected tropical disease by the World Health Organization, schistosomiasis is caused by blood parasites of the genus Schistosoma that travel from snails to water to humans. In research published in eLife on July 10, scientists identify five cells from the parasites’ early stage of infection that form adult stem cells, a portion of which contribute to the growth of the reproductive system.
Parasite eggs that hatch in water bodies take up residence in snails, within which they reproduce in large numbers. These organisms come into contact with humans through contaminated water. In the course of infection, the schistosomes pierce human skin and develop into adults upon reaching the liver. The sole treatment available for the infection kills adult worms in humans.
“The drug used to fight schistosomes does not work on [the early] stage of infection,” Phillip Newmark, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a coauthor of the study, says in a statement. “Understanding what’s happening in this early period after infection is critical, because it’s also a time when the parasites should be most vulnerable.”
B. Wang et al., “Stem cell heterogeneity drives the parasitic life cycle of Schistosoma mansoni,” eLife, doi:10.7554/eLife.35449, 2018.