We are striving to invent a better way of tapeworm diagnostics in countries plagued by T. solium, but even more, we also want to have an impact right on our doorstep: raising awareness for the topic of Neglected Tropical Diseases here in Germany. Recently, we have made good progress towards both of these objectives!
Closing in on the tapeworm: Our first tapeworm-specific sensor
In the past weeks, we have established a semi-automated protocol to examine the time-course of the reaction. With a set-up originally designed to measure bioluminescence, we can now closely follow even minor changes of color in our reactants. This not only yields much more detailed information than an examination by eye and makes data better comparable, but more over it decreases the workload for experimenters!
With this pipeline firmly established, we know are set to test a large number of possible tapeworm sensors in a short time! However, our own RNA obtained through the cooperation with India is not quite ready - we are awaiting the sequencing data. In the meantime, we have created sensors that target the only antigenic RNA sequence published for the tapeworm Taenia solium (1). This sequence dubbed Tso31 are the only 700 base pairs of RNA that are known to be specific for the tapeworm. Moreover, it is though that it might be involved in the step allowing the pathogen to pass through the gut epithelium - it might thus even be important in the transition from Taeniasis to the much more dangerous Cysticercosis. With an RNA sensor targeting this sequence, we could make an important step towards our aim of efficiently diagnosing tapeworm infection!
(1) Mayta, H., Hancock, K., Levine, M., Gilman, R., Farfán, M., Verastegui, M., Lane, W., Garcia, H., Gonzalez, A. and Tsang, V. (2007). Characterization of a novel Taenia solium oncosphere antigen. Molecular and Biochemical Parasitology, 156(2), pp.154-161.
Presenting our project: Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften & Africa Festival
Presenting our project not only to scientists, but to everyone who is interested is immensely important to us - to show that neglected tropical diseases are worth working on and that we have come quite a way already!
To this end, we were immensely happy that two great opportunities happened in Berlin in June: The Kenako Africa Festival, bringingtogether initiatives focussing on projects in connection to Africa, and the Lange Nacht der Wissenschaft that aims for communicating science in a fun way. With a tapeworm model made of clay, catch-the-tapeworm-games for young (and older) visitors and - last but not least - a very interested audience, we have presented our project with a lot of fun and great success. Seeing that our project fascinates not only us, but a lot of people with no connetion to medical science was an incredibly rewarding experience and in conversations with many different people, we also received a lot of input we might never have thought of!
And we're not only aiming for a Berlin audience! Upcoming are events in Delft as well as in Dresden, and on top of that, there will soon be a first diagnost-x video to be released - ready to spread across the globe 🙂