Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia, is a helminthic disease caused by schistosomes, which are parasitic flatworms. Over 200 million people are estimated to be infected by schistosomes, which are endemic in more than 70 countries. Infection occurs through contact with cercariae-infested freshwater. Cercariae are released from infected snails which are the intermediate host. Once cercariae have penetrated the skin, they migrate to the intestine or bladder where they reproduce. Eggs are released through urine or faeces, and hatch to release miracidia. Miracidia infect freshwater snails, and complete the cycle by releasing cercariae. If left untreated, schistomosiasis can damage numerous organs including the liver, kidney and spleen, and increase the risk of bladder cancer and HIV transmission. Anthelmintic drugs are successful in killing adult worms, but do not prevent reinfection. In achieving elimination of schistosomiasis, water and sanitation may play a pivotal role.
Laura's research is part of the WISER project, which examines the ability of selected water treatment methods to remove schistosomiasis cercariae from water. This collaborative project between Imperial College, the Natural History Museum, Addis Ababa University, and the National Institute of Medical Research in Tanzania will help inform how water treatment in endemic areas should be designed. Chlorination, filtration and ultraviolet disinfection experiments will be conducted in Ethiopia and Tanzania.
Laura obtained a BEng in Bioresource Engineering from McGill University, Canada in 2013. She went on to graduate from Imperial College London with an MSc in Environmental Engineering and Business Management. After working for a London-based engineering consultancy, she joined the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Sustainable Civil Engineering at Imperial College London in 2016. She is supervised by Dr. Michael Templeton and will work in close collaboration with the Global Schistosomiasis Alliance and the Natural History Museum.