Professor Mark Taylor, LSTM
Wolbachia is one of the most abundant intracellular symbiotic bacteria in nature. Most commonly found in insects, with up to 60% of species infected, it is also found in a sub-group of filarial nematodes, including the major pathogenic species of humans, which cause onchocerciasis (river blindness) and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis).
Both parasitic and mutualist types are being exploited as novel approaches for public health to control and treat tropical diseases. Vectors parasitised by Wolbachia become refractory to transmission of other diseases, in particular viruses. Introduction of Wolbachia into the dengue vector Aedes aegyptireduces dengue transmission in the laboratory and field trials are underway to test this approach in dengue-affected communities. In filarial nematodes Wolbachia have evolved a mutualistic symbiosis essential for worm growth and development and the survival of adult worms. This essential dependency has been exploited as a target for antibiotic therapy, which can cure patients infected with Wuchereria bancrofti andOnchocerca volvulus, providing an alternative treatment and control strategy. The A·WOL consortium is advancing drug discovery and development of new anti-Wolbachia drugs compatible with community directed drug delivery to enable widespread scale-up of a safe macrofilaricidal therapy.
Mark Taylor is Professor of Parasitology and Head of The Department of Parasitology at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He is Director of A·WOL, an international consortium of academic and industrial partners funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and GHIT to discover and develop new drugs against onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis.