I work on single-celled parasites called African trypanosomes. African trypanosomes present a significant burden to large areas of sub-Saharan Africa, leading to an estimated $1.3 billion annual loss to the African economy. The majority of this economic cost is attributable to the veterinary disease Nagana, caused by the animal trypanosome species T. vivax, T. congolense and T. b. brucei. Nagana affects over 20 million livestock animals, lowering herd productivity and increasing mortality. This renders large areas of sub-Saharan Africa inhospitable for the more profitable livestock species and breeds. More directly, in humans, African trypanosomes cause the debilitating and often fatal disease African sleeping sickness, leading to a loss of 1.3 million disability-adjusted life years (DALY) to the African economy annually. The majority of trypanosome species are unable to infect humans due to an innate resistance mechanism. However, the T. brucei subspecies T. b. rhodesiense and T. b. gambiense have evolved to overcome this innate resistance and can infect humans. Of the two human-infective subspecies, T. b. gambiense is the more prevalent, causing more than 95% of human cases.
My research, funded by my Wellcome Trust senior fellowship, is focused on studying two main aspects of T.b. gambiense infections.
1. How the parasites cause infection?
2. How humans fight that infection?