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Snail decoy targets disease

An artificial snail that could save upto 200,000 lives a year is the result of pioneering research by aquatic ecotoxicologist Dr Edwin Routledge and Professor in Exposome Science Rakesh Kanda.

The decoy is an unconventional way of disturbing the lifecycle of the parasite that causes schistosomiasis - a disease which has the second largest impact on human health after malaria.To become infectious to humans, the parasite transforms within snails living in rivers and, after completing its lifecycle within the snail, returns to the water to infect unwitting people by burrowing through their skin.

Brunel was awarded $100,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help find a solution to the parasitic disease, which puts 243 million people worldwide at risk. Identifying the chemicals released by snails into the water that attract the parasites is a 30 year challenge, and is a crucial first step in the development of the artificial snail. Indistinguishable from a real snail, Dr Routledge's decoy will draw parasites away from live hosts, and make it impossible for it to replicate later. The next interdisciplinary stage of the work will involve both design and material scientists to develop a decoy artificial snail prototype for testing in the laboratory and in field conditions. "I have always been motivated by research that will make a difference," said Dr Routledge, from the Department of Life Sciences at Brunel. "I see this as a great opportunity to use ecotoxicology approaches in a different way to help solve an important global human health issue."