Summer science and leishmaniasis
Today sees the start of the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition, which this year takes place on London’s South Bank. The annual event sees scientists meet the public in a series of interesting exhibits and usually features a few Trust-funded researchers.
This year’s exhibition features a stand that ties in well to the ‘Skin’ exhibition currently on at Wellcome Collection. ‘Leishmania: lessons from a parasite’ asks you to destroy the ‘skin’ of an exhibit to understand what life is like for people living with the tropical disease leishmaniasis.
The disease causes debilitating skin lesions and is caused by the parasite Leishmania. It is the second biggest cause of death due to parasitic infection after malaria, affecting around 12 million people in 8 countries.
The exhibit features a hut covered with layers of photographs of human skin. You are encouraged to rip away parts of this ‘skin’ to show the damage that leishmaniasis can cause to a person’s face and body.
The hut, designed by students from the Royal College of Art, also houses some of the live sand flies that spread the disease. You can watch them feed from the arm of a brave researcher, demonstrating how the insects transmit the parasite and also how they are fed in the laboratory.
A series of films feature interviews with leishmaniasis patients and researchers from the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, who discuss how the disease suppresses the immune system and potential ways to treat it.
Their research includes work exploring the key role of the amino acid L-arginine in leishmaniasis. L-arginine ensures that white blood cells can work effectively and the researchers are investigating whether levels of the amino acid are particularly low in people with leishmaniasis.
Researchers from Imperial College London will be there to answer any questions. And you can then test your knowledge on neglected tropical diseases in a quiz, with the chance to win a leishmaniasis cuddly toy (!). If that’s not enough, you can also play a specially-designed level of the PlayStation game LittleBigPlanet, where you can ride sand flies and travel around the immune system to find the best way to stop leishmaniasis.
The exhibit is funded by Exscitec, the Wellcome Centre for Clinical Tropical Medicine at Imperial College London, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Royal Society and the Wellcome Trust.
The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition runs from 25 June until 4 July,