Research

Project overview and objectives

Human infections caused by parasitic protozoans and helminths are among the world-leading causes of death. Several million people die each year from diseases like malaria, leishmaniasis, trypanosomiasis and schistosomiasis and millions more endure disabilities that cause lifelong suffering. Many of these same parasites and related genera or species infect commercially valuable animals causing economic losses that are often not appreciated. Although less common in developed countries, these parasitic infections are present among immigrants and travellers returning from endemic regions and provide an increasing threat for immunocompromised individuals (e.g. AIDS patients and patients with other immuno-deficiencies). Furthermore, environmental and climate changes can affect the breeding, development and proliferation of specific parasite species and their vectors or hosts, increasing the risk of introduction (or re-introduction) of certain parasitic diseases in Europe. In addition in western countries, other parasites such as Acanthamoeba sp. cause disease in immunocompromised individuals, while Trichomonas vaginalis is probably the most widespread sexually-transmitted infection worldwide.

Parasites usually present complex life cycles and need to exploit sequentially more than one host species to complete the different stages involved. Thus, parasites have evolved to deceive and compromise the immune systems of the different infected organisms with great success. Cell-cell interactions between the parasite and the different hosts are critical for the successful completion of each life stage and often these interactions are mediated by glycans, which are essential for parasite virulence. Furthermore, glycoconjugates on the surface of the parasite usually form a protective barrier against the host defence systems. Therefore, research into parasite glycobiology will allow not only to tackle the aforementioned worldwide human health problems, but also to acquire important new insights into molecular pathology and host-pathogen interactions.

The principal objective of the parasite glycobiology and anti-parasitic strategies initial training network (GlycoPar) is the training of a new generation of scientists with the skills and knowledge demanded to address the challenges involved in the study of parasite glycobiology and the translation of this research into successful therapeutic strategies. This proposal combines the training of early stage researchers (ESR) in research and transferable skills with an ambitious program of training-through-research, implemented via 13 well-devised research projects covering different paramount topics on parasite glycobiology.

The main scientific goal of GlycoPar will be the description of novel paradigms and models by which parasite glycoconjugates play a role in the successful colonization of the different hosts. To this end, GlycoPar research aims to outline:

  • The structures of parasite glycans (the glycome), as well as the enzymes involved in their biosynthesis
  • The properties of parasite glycans and their specificity and affinity for glycan-binding receptors in the host
  • The fundamental function and the importance of these glycans in host-pathogen interactions
  • The translation of all this knowledge into novel diagnostic tools and therapeutic approaches against parasitic infections affecting humans or animals.