In the year in which Malvern College celebrates 25 years of co-education it was particularly gratifying to be visited again by OM Dr Poppy Lamberton (No.6.1996-98) who is currently a Senior Lecturer in Global Health at Glasgow University, and an expert in Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).
Admitting to having studied sciences “because she was nosey and wanted to find out something no one else had learned”, Dr Lamberton studied the Biology of Tropical Diseases at Oxford for her degree, and then researched NTDs for her PhD at Imperial College. Eighteen months ago, she based herself at Glasgow University and, supported by funding, is looking at the treatment and incidence of schistosomiasis in Uganda and Tanzania.
Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia, currently affects about 300 million people worldwide. While it can be treated, it has proved to be difficult to cure, because of the high reinfection rate. The worm causing this disease has a life cycle reliant on humans and snails, enters through the skin into the bloodstream where it travels to the liver. Within the liver it starts to lay eggs, the eggs are then dispersed into the environment via faecal matter, and the larvae then have a developmental stage within freshwater snails before the cycle begins again.
This fascinating lecture was well attended by the Sixth Form as well as some of the more scientifically minded FY and Remove. We learned a lot about the main issues preventing the eradication of schistosomiasis and other NTDs, which include factors such as: lack of footwear; lack of proper, effective sanitation; and general reliance on rivers as source of food and as places to wash. Two of the biggest problems in treating the disease are the lack of long term funding and the fact that it is very difficult to break the cycle of transmission.
Disease management regimes initiated in 2004 have not been successful, despite the generous donation of large quantities of drugs by pharmaceutical companies. The reason for this is unclear and could be sociological as well as biological. The focus now is to work out why treatment strategies have not worked. New, fast genetic analysis techniques are being used to help to solve this question and studies into population demographics and how communities live are all strands of the current research.
The audience kept Dr Lamberton for quite a while afterwards, asking some very interesting and pertinent questions: Jacob Perry asked if anyone knew why the incidence of the disease had increased despite treatment. Ali Hawkins wanted to know whether the environment could be treated instead of people in order to try to break the transmission cycle. Nana Asante asked how long it might take to develop new drugs, if resistance to the disease was the problem. And even when most of the audience had left, a small group remained behind asking Dr Lamberton more questions about her career. It was clear that some pupils were really inspired by the lecture and were keen to follow in her footsteps.
Cathy Hartog, Biology