Soulsby Fellowship to enable innovative solution to parasites

Parasitologist Dr Vito Colella has been awarded a fellowship to fund work to deliver an innovative solution to parasites that infect children and dogs in Cambodia.

The fellowship was awarded by the Soulsby Foundation. The foundation is named for Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior in the United Kingdom, who served as President of both the Royal Society of Medicine and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

This understanding of both human and veterinary medicine led him to become an early advocate of the One Health approach, which recognises the links between human, animal and environmental health, and the importance of collaborating across disciplines when approaching health challenges.

Dr Vito Colella
Soulsby Fellowship recipient Dr Vito Colella.

Dr Colella’s project is a prime example of this approach. He and a team of researchers including Professor in Veterinary Parasitology Rebecca Traub are evaluating the effectiveness of an intervention to reduce the transmission of soil-transmitted parasitic hookworms to humans in Cambodia.

As these hookworms infect not just humans, but also the dogs that live nearby, treatments that only target humans are rendered less effective when hookworms that survive in dogs re-infect them.

Hookworm infections can cause iron deficiency, anaemia and protein malnutrition, and are an enormous health burden in developing countries. Children are particularly vulnerable.

In a blog post for the Soulsby Foundation, Dr Colella says only an approach that recognises the link between the human and animal health issue can deliver long-term results.

Deworming team in Cambodia
Dr Vito Colella (centre) with Professor Rebecca Traub, graduate researcher Patsy Zendejas Heredia, the University of Melbourne, and Dr Virak Khieu, Ministry of Health Cambodia.

“Having a holistic view of the continuum between people, animals, and the environment around them, can provide clues and shine a spotlight on the variety of drivers influencing the appearance of a pathogen and its associated disease,” he writes.

“Thanks to the Soulsby fellowship I’ll be able to deliver mass drug administration to school age children and community dogs in resource-poor communities in Cambodia. We will measure the impact of this intervention by looking at whether there is a reduced proportion of animals and people suffering from the negative impacts of zoonotic parasites after implementation, exploring the genetic and epidemiological traits driving disease transmission, and perform a cost-effectiveness analysis of this intervention to advocate for relevant policy change.”

Dr Juan Pablo Villanueva-Cabezas, Research Fellow in One Health at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, also received a Soulsby Fellowship to support his research into milk production systems in Bhutan.

In a post for the Soulsby Foundation, he discusses the Our Planet, Our Health I and II subjects he coordinates with the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, and the links between agriculture, animal and environmental health, and the wellbeing of humans in Bhutan.

“Although there has been some success with the establishment of milk cooperatives, many herds suffer from limited access to fodder and pasture... and some records suggest a high prevalence of zoonotic diseases in the region,” he writes.

“Understanding the practices and level of zoonosis awareness among farmers seems essential to consolidate a milk value chain that supports the health and wellbeing of stock, farmers, consumers, and the environment.”

Chair of the Soulsby Foundation trustees, Judy MacArthur Clark, said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the intimate link between animals and humans in emerging diseases.

“This emphasises the importance of a One Health approach so firmly advocated by Lord Soulsby in which veterinary and medical health professionals work together to find solutions,” she said.

“These 2020 Soulsby Fellows are remarkable examples of how a One Health approach benefits humans, animals and the communities in which they live. They are potential future leaders who will enable us to better respond to future pandemics.”