Dr. Mark Booth (Wolfson Research Institute, Durham University) is an epidemiologist with over 20 years experience of research on Neglected Tropical Diseases. Mark graduated from Imperial College with a BSc(Hons) in Zoology. He stayed on to complete a PhD in Biology focusing on the epidemiology of Ascaris Lumbricoides, Trichuris trichiura and hookworm infections in developing countries, mainly in Africa. Whilst enjoying a Wellcome Trust sponsored Fellowship at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute he added malaria and schistosomiasis to his portfolio of research interests. An eight year post at Cambridge University allowed Mark to broaden his disciplinary interests to include immunology, genetics and anthropology.
This multi-disciplinary approach continues at Durham University, where Mark is active in developing methods of combining biomedical and social research, underpinned by epidemiological principles of study design and inference. Currently funded research includes the EU FP7 collaboration ‘Healthy Futures’ (www.healthyfutures.eu) that is investigating the role of climate change on the transmission of malaria, schistosomiasis and rift-valley fever in East Africa. Mark is also co-ordinator of the N8 Parasitology Group – a network of over 40 academics from the N8 University Partnership (www.n8research.org.uk).
Dr. Booth's presentation today is “Without Science there is no endgame” - Parasites co-evolve with their host to occupy a specific ecological niche that allows the parasite to thrive at the expense of the host. This specialisation is the key to parasite success, but is also a potential weakness. Once a parasite life-cycle is identified, specific stages can be disrupted, with only limited means of escape for the parasite, at least in the short term. Mass Drug Administration programmes are a popular tool for disrupting the life cycle of parasites to reduce population levels of parasitism and associated morbidities. Whether the MDA approach is the best possible approach in the long term remains debatable. Parasites and their vectors continue to evolve under selective pressure. Many social, environmental and economic complexities militate against projected MDA successes due to the uncertainties associated with future scenarios. Basic, applied and operational research that crosses disciplinary boundaries can help optimise control efforts by identifying the reasons why disrupting parasite life cycles is often less than straightforward.
Links to additional material
"Two and a half cheers for Bill Gates. To tackle neglected tropical diseases we need a far more collaborative and flexible approach". Article by Dr. Booth, published in The New Statesman, 3 February 2012.