Seminar "A ‘One Health’ approach to control of ascariasis?" by Dr Martha Betson

Date and Time

Monday, February 25, 2013 - 17:30


PRESENTATION: “A ‘One Health’ approach to control of ascariasis?” by Dr Martha Betson


DATE AND TIME: 25th February 2013, 17:30


VENUE: Upper Meeting Room, London International Development Centre (LIDC) 36 Gordon Square London WC1H 0PD

The nearest underground stations are Euston Square, Euston, and Kings Cross and St Pancras stations.


SPEAKER: Dr Martha Betson – One Health Research Fellow, The Royal Veterinary College (RVC), London Martha started her research career at UCL as a cell biologist. Subsequently she went to work in the lab of Dr Jeff Settleman at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA where she learned Drosophila genetics. During her time in Boston Martha became very interested in international health and, upon completing her postdoc, she returned to the UK to study for a Masters in Control of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She then joined the group of Prof Russell Stothard as a Wellcome Trust funded postdoc, first at the Natural History Museum, London and then at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Here she played a key role in the Schistosomiasis in Mothers and Infants (SIMI) project which investigated the epidemiology of schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminths and malaria in mothers and young children in Uganda. This project was a collaboration with the Vector Control Division of the Ugandan Ministry of Health and the results of the study contributed to a review of schistosomiasis treatment policy in preschool-age children by the WHO. In addition, Martha worked on projects investigating non-falciparum malaria (in collaboration with Dr Colin Sutherland, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) and fasciolosis in Uganda. Martha joined the Royal Veterinary College as a research fellow in One Health in December 2012. Here Martha is continuing her interest in the molecular epidemiology and control of the large roundworm Ascaris in pigs and people, as well as developing new research projects related to zoonotic helminth infections.


TALK: “A ‘One Health’ approach to control of ascariasis?” Martha Betson, Peter Nejsum, Richard Bendall, Philip Cooper, Russell Stothard

The giant roundworm Ascaris lumbricoides infects more than 1 billion people across the globe. Although infections have been identified in developed countries including UK and USA, the greatest burden of disease is found in children of the developing world. Here, as poor sanitation and hygiene abound, infections are inevitable and ubiquitous, with preventive chemotherapy being the mainstay of control as recommended by the World Health Organization. The closely-related parasite A. suum is found in pigs worldwide, though its distribution is highly dependent on local farming practices and animal husbandry. Ascaris lumbricoides and A. suum are morphologically indistinguishable and this has led to a long-standing debate as to whether they do indeed represent two distinct species and the extent to which Ascaris is a zoonosis. Martha and her team have been using molecular and epidemiological techniques to study the population structure and transmission dynamics of Ascaris at a global and local scale. Around 550 ascarid worms were obtained from human and pig hosts in Africa, Asia and Europe. Phylogenetic and population genetic analyses were carried out using mitochondrial and nuclear markers. This demonstrated that zoonotic transmission does occur, but that there are geographical differences in the relative importance of zoonotic and anthroponotic cycles. Following on from this, they intend to undertake a micro-epidemiological analysis of Ascaris in Ecuador where humans and pigs live in close proximity. In particular, they aim to determine whether there is a relationship between zoonotic ascariasis and allergic disease in young children. Overall, their research highlights the importance of a ‘One Health’ approach to control ascariasis in humans and pigs.