Hunting worms at the Edinburgh International Science Festival

The hugely successful 2013 Edinburgh Science Festival ran during the Easter holidays at venues across the city.  Edinburgh Infectious Diseases took part in the programme of events organised by the University of Edinburgh which ran at the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street.

For the Science Festival a group of researchers from Rick Maizels' lab based in the Institute for Immunology and Infection Research developed a project exploring the current work on the hygiene hypothesis.  Many studies have observed the correlation that in the developed world  there has been a decrease in the level of infestation with parasitic worms (left panel below), and an increase in autoimmune and allergic disorders (rmiddle panel).  However in countries which continue to bear a high burden of worm infestation, incidence of autoimmune disorders is relatively low.  Work in the Maizels' lab is now underway to understand the immunological basis for these observations, wtih the eventual aim of developing new treatments for autoimmune and allergic conditions. 

Left:  Incidence of helminth infestation; middle:  incidence of autoimmune and allergic disorders; right:  model helminth H. polygyrus

Visitors to the Edinburgh Infectious Diseases exhibition at the museum had the opportunity to examine some of the lab worms Heligmosomoides polygyrus (above right), compare the breath sounds of a normal lungs with those from someone suffering from asthma, and measure their own lung function using a peak flow spyrometer.  Many of the visitors either suffered from asthma themselves or knew someone else who did, and children and adults alike were very engaged with the research being done.

Visitors to the University of Edinburgh's prgoramme at the Science Festival enjoying getting hands-on experience

During the duration of the Science Festival over 13,000 people visited the University of Edinburgh programme, which meant that the demonstrators were all kept very busy!  However it was a thoroughly rewarding experience for everyone involved.


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