Biomarkers in Brazil
When Koskey’s research partner, Rafael Ponce-Terashima M.D. a fellow at Case Western Reserve University, was conducting research in eastern Brazil last year, he did most of the sampling in the Rio Jiquiriçá, in waders. The second time around, Ponce-Terashima and his new research partner took more precautions. “We were very diligent about sanitizing, wearing gloves and closed-toed shoes and we never went into the water,” Koskey says. They rigged up a sampling device from a pole, rope and Nalgene water bottle so that they could sample from shore. “It was very MacGuyverish,” she says. That contraption also had more practical purposes. “It definitely decreased our risk of getting shisto.”
|Koskey’s research partner, Rafael Ponce-Terashima M.D. uses a hand-made |
sampling device from a pole, rope and Nalgene water bottle so that they
could sample the river from shore.
The Schistosomiasis parasite is released into water sources through waste from infected humans and then incubates in freshwater snails (prevalent in the Rio Jiquiriçá) before spreading into waterways. The disease presents itself as a rash, or “swimmers itch” and can cause chronic health issues, including cardiovascular damage and gastrointestinal illnesses, if not treated.
Because many houses in the communities near the Jiquiriçá don't have septic systems, human waste is going directly into the river, creating a cycle of contamination. “These people walk through the water, bathe in the water, sometimes they use it for drinking water as needed because the water sources in the community aren’t the most reliable,” says Koskey. “They have the infrastructure to pipe water, but for various reasons, the system just fails and the people are left with no other option than to drink water from the river.”
|Field work in any setting – especially in a foreign country – sometimes |
demands innovative thinking. Pictured here is an incubator made by Koskey
“We want to see if the markers are different between different cultures. In the United States, or even Milwaukee, we have a different gut microbiome than, say, a rural Brazilian.” She will study the possibility of developing site-specific bacterial tests for different geographic regions.
After attending XII International Course of Molecular Epidemiology in Emerging Infectious and Parasitic Diseases in Salvador Brazil in August, Koskey headed to her research site in Jenipapo and Volta do Rio. While Ponce-Terashima did most of the interpreting, Koskey learned enough Portuguese to help her interact with the locals. “Brazil is a very social culture,” she says. “We had to spend an entire day introducing ourselves to people in each of the communities and talking about what Rafael and I were doing. Mind you, this was all in Portuguese, so I am just standing there, smiling, saying ‘Hi my name is Amber. I am from the U.S. and helping Rafael with this project.’ This required a lot of patience, which I especially needed in hour-long meetings that were all in Portuguese.”
|Koskey hopes her work with the communities will help prevent so many|
illnesses caused by shisto.
Reflecting on her work in Jenipapo and Volta do Rio, Koskey says that “It’s really neat to work with these communities and to help them in any way possible. Any opportunity for community education and outreach could prevent so many illnesses and potentially save lives,” she says. “Even if it's just talking to the little boy watching us and explaining to him why bathing in the water in this river caused him to get Shistosomisis months ago.”