Thursday, 12 May 2016

Bugs, Bites and Parasites - A Totally Tropical Tour!

On Friday afternoon, I, along with Dr Dyer and various Year 10 and 12 students, visited the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, which, for the uninitiated, is an institution that works on improving healthcare in developing countries by working on cures for such diseases as Malaria, Schistosomiasis, and Lymphatic Filariasis. I mention these three illnesses in particular because these are the three groups we were split up into, and also the three illnesses that made up the majority of our tour.

The tour started (after a brief health and safety talk, of course) with my group, which was called malaria, being taken into one of the rooms where the mosquitoes are housed. One of the scientists there then showed us the mosquito’s life cycle from the 1st, 3rd, and 4th instars (Larval stage) through to the pupal stage, and finally adulthood, at which point they must be housed in an inescapable environment in order for them not to bite anyone, compared to all previous forms of the mosquito that must be housed in water.  

We then moved on to the parasitology department, where we were shown pictures of sufferers of lymphatic filariasis, a disease affecting the lymphatic system (the system that is responsible for the removal of toxins, waste, and other unwanted materials via the production of lymph, a liquid containing infection-fighting white blood cells). The cause of Lymphatic Filariasis is small worms of the roundworm family, known as filarial parasites, being transferred from mosquitoes into humans through the skin, these worms then create thousands of larvae that enter the bloodstream. This causes ‘Lymphoedema’ (A swelling of limbs and other body parts with Lymph) which can lead to ‘Elephantiasis’, a permanent deformity making the limbs look like Elephants’ and requiring amputation. So all in all it isn’t a very pleasant disease.

On the walk between different areas of the facility we were shown smaller labs that were responsible for blood testing, and testing on more infectious diseases,  and some larger labs that were responsible for less possibly infectious diseases and parasitology.

The next illness we saw was Schistosomiasis, which is an illness caused by a genus of parasitic flatworms called Schistosomes, which infect freshwater snails who then go on to release the Schistosome larvae which penetrate the skin during contact with infested water. This can cause intestinal/abdominal pain, blood in urine, and liver enlargement, among other things.

Finally we were taken to the oldest part of LSTM in which we were able to talk to researchers and PhD students, which was particularly interesting to me as, personally, pharmacology is a field I’m very interested in going into.

By Isaac Basque-Rice
Year 10 student at Liverpool Life Sciences UTC


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