It is late 2018, when Maria brings the idea of a public engagement project to my drawing table.
I could not have imagined then I would be connecting with a number of scientist from different countries, discussing various pathogens and diseases….uh…much less, during a pandemic.
And consequently creating a series of small studies. I call the work studies because as I learn, I draw and paint. I also want to note I find a new circular format, work on a different surface, experiment with new brushes… #ChangeIsGood
Today I talk to Dr. María Adelaida Duque, the scientist and her work.
Maria: I am a Colombian immunologist with a passion to understand host-pathogen interactions, she explains, that underlie infectious diseases endemic in low and middle-income countries such as Colombia.
During my career I have studied different infectious diseases including Chagas disease caused by the infection with Trypanosoma cruzi (a protist), tuberculosis caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (bacteria infecting the lung), and currently trichuriasis, a neglected tropical disease caused by Trichuris trichiura (alias Whipworm).
While in studio I focus on the whipworm and it’s eggs but I want to know more about neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
Maria: They are a group of 17-20 different diseases affecting more than 1 billion people in low and middle-income countries mainly in the tropics and subtropics of Latin America, Asia and Africa (https://www.cdc.gov/globalhealth/ntd/diseases/index.html, https://www.who.int/teams/control-of-neglected-tropical-diseases). These diseases are related to poverty and the lack of proper sanitation. Some of them were actually present in USA and European countries but the introduction of sanitation put them under control. Because they do not affect wealthy countries, there is not much investment in research and development of drugs and vaccines to control them.
She asks me to imagine teaching children about sanitation and hand-washing, in an area where water is not easily accessible.
We get infected with this parasite when we ingest eggs present in contaminated food or water, she says.
Her image is labeled Worm in the cecum. Because I spend last summer drawing cross sections of the intestine (and enjoyed it!), I recognize some things.
My sensibility pulls to the small circular detailed areas (not typical of the cecum) which are unembryontaed eggs inside a female whipworm (transverse cut). While the visual appeals to my eyes, I don’t forget the female T. trichiura produces 2,000–10,000 single-celled eggs a day!
I admire how microscopic images are laid out usually showing changes occurring in organ/organism. I decide for a similar layout to show the evolution of my study, layout to completion.
Note thick, oval-shape shell with plugs at both end, that protect the egg. The whole thing is covered by vitelline membrane. #stable
I could probably do a whole series on the egg development. #stages
Do eggs hatch in the intestine? And is hatch the correct word to use?
All unembryonated eggs need moisture and temperature to embryonate, Maria explains, which in nature they find in the soil, that is why whipwomrs are soil-transmitted helminths.
Unembryonated eggs travel through the intestine, exit the body in the stool and eventually become embryonated eggs. They can be present in contaminated food and water. Consider they may end up in the little hands of children playing with soil, ingested and eventually arrive to the intestine and hatch.
Can human whipworm eggs be seen in the soil? With or without microscope? (I’d guess you need a microscope.)
In particular locations, could/would soil be sequenced?
I ask Maria about her research and its results: I foresee the results of my research will help us to develop new drugs and a vaccine (currently there is not one), to fight trichuriasis, but also to understand how the infection with whipworms can promote the resolution of inflammatory diseases such as IBD and allergies.
Thank you Maria, for initiating this public engagement and for sharing your work with me.
For more about work and publications → Dr. María Adelaida Duque
Next post, I plan to take you into the cecum and tell you more about Trichuris trichiura (aka whipwrom). And I need to decide if I’ll be drawing more whipworms (I did once- look). I bet I will!
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