Using Virus-like Particles to Combat Schistosomiasis

Schistosomiasis is a parasitic neglected tropical disease (NDT) that affects over 250 million people, mostly in Africa. This waterborne disease greatly reduces economic productivity in regions where it is endemic. Yet due to the extreme poverty of these areas, the market is too small for vaccine development to be profitable. There are several successful treatments for this illness, primarily Praziquantel, but the few efforts to make a preventative vaccine have failed. These failures can be traced to the compounds under study not evoking a strong enough immune response against the parasite. However, a new method for more immunostimulatory vaccines that is the focus of ongoing research is virus-like particles (VLPs). These are just the shells of viruses which lack the genetic information needed to replicate, and are stable at a range of temperatures (unlike many current vaccines) and easily producible en masse from bacterial culture. By attaching the compounds under prior study to these viral particles, they are more easily recognized by the immune system and thus may trigger a more potent response. Our 2024 project aims to engineer these viral particles with current compounds under clinical consideration in order to test a more effective vaccine against schistosomiasis.

In addition, we are continuing to make community outreach a cornerstone of our project. Along with the continuation of our local science education program, we are consulting NTD organizations and collaborating with the iGEM team at the University of Michigan to hold health equity seminars on the imbalance in research funding for NTDs. We will be presenting the culmination of this work at the Grand Jamboree this September.