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L to R: Dr Narcis Kabatereine, Collaborator, Ms Betty Nabatte, Ugandan Field Manager, and Dr Goylette Chami
L-R: Dr Narcis Kabatereine, Collaborator, Ms Betty Nabatte, Ugandan Field Manager, and Dr Goylette Chami

Dr Goylette Chami has won a €2.274 million European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant that will enable her to work with researchers in Uganda to study concurrent health conditions associated with the parasitic infection, schistosomiasis.

Dr Chami will work with the Division of Vector Borne Diseases and Neglected Tropical Diseases in the Uganda Ministry of Health and Dr Narcis Kabatereine to set up a prospective cohort study. This is a study that follows a group of people over a long period of time to enable researchers to identify factors that may be associated with certain diseases. The project will focus on conditions of the gut and liver that are experienced by patients with chronic intestinal schistosomiasis.

Schistosomiasis is caused by parasitic worms. Larval forms of the parasite penetrate the skin during contact with infested water and then grow into adult worms (schistosomes) which live in the blood vessels. The females release eggs, some of which cause immune reactions and damage to organs. For chronic cases, the damage can cause liver fibrosis, anaemia, enlarged liver and spleens, and vomiting blood. In children, schistosomiasis can contribute to stunting and a reduced ability to learn. In adults, it can affect their ability to work.

Dr Chami said: ‘Schistosomiasis affects millions of people worldwide, predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa. This grant will enable us to study concurrent long-term conditions for the first time for schistosomiasis to understand how the conditions interact and progress within and across patients. We are excited to develop a new research field of multimorbidity for schistosomiasis that moves away from focusing on current infections and instead looks at all of the long-term conditions of the gut and liver that the person is experiencing.

‘We will recruit 3,280 participants for clinical and parasitology examinations, as well as up to 10,000 individuals for assessing medical histories. This large-scale field study will shed new light on conditions and their interactions that can have long-term and life-threatening consequences. We also aim to open new avenues for exploring complementary treatment options to en masse treatment with praziquantel – the only strategy currently used to treat schistosomiasis.

‘Oxford Population Health is the perfect place for me to host this ambitious programme as I will use methods also developed for other prospective cohort studies in the department, in particular the China Kadoorie Biobank.’

Goylette is one of five University of Oxford researchers to receive an ERC Starting Grant. There were 4,066 applications across multiple subjects and countries, with 397 early-career researchers winning Starting Grants.

The awards will be made through the EU’s new research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe. €619 million will be invested in projects selected for their scientific excellence. Grants worth on average €1.5 million will help younger researchers launch their own projects, form teams and pursue their best ideas.

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: ‘With this very first round of long-awaited grants, I am glad to see the European Research Council remaining a flagship for excellent and curiosity-driven science under the Horizon Europe programme. I am looking forward to seeing what new breakthroughs and opportunities the new ERC laureates will bring, and how they will inspire young people to follow their curiosity and make discoveries for the benefit of us all.’

President of the European Research Council Professor Maria Leptin said: ‘Letting young talent thrive in Europe and go after their most innovative ideas – this is the best investment in our future, not least with the ever-growing competition globally. We must trust the young and their insights into what areas will be important tomorrow. So, I am thrilled to see these new ERC Starting Grant winners ready to cut new ground and set up their own teams. Some of them will be coming back from overseas, thanks to the ERC grants, to do science in Europe. We must continue to make sure Europe remains a scientific powerhouse.’