Campus News

Renown parasitologist featured in next UGA Voices Lecture

Athens, Ga. – Parasitologist Bruce Christensen, one of the world’s leading experts on the dynamics of mosquito-borne diseases, will be featured in the next Global Diseases: Voices from the Vanguard lecture on Feb. 22, at 5:30 p.m. in the University of Georgia Chapel.

In some parts of the world, mosquitoes transmit a double-dose of misery by infecting people with malaria-causing parasites and those responsible for lymphatic filariasis, which causes the grotesque and painful swelling commonly called elephantiasis.

Christensen’s talk, called “Parasite vs. Mosquito in the Jungles of Papua New Guinea,” will explain how the mosquito’s immune response to these disease-causing parasites affects the spread of disease in people. This has been the subject of his research at the University of Wisconsin, and at field stations around the world, for decades.

In particular, he’ll focus on an unintended consequence that could arise from the World Health Organization’s Global Program to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis. If the program succeeds in wiping out the thread-like parasite Wucheria bancrofti, which causes lymphatic filariasis by clogging the lymphatic system, will mosquitoes become more efficient spreaders of malaria?

“This is a fascinating idea,” said UGA Knight Chair Patricia Thomas, who co-sponsors the lecture series. “Think of the mosquito as a person trying to manage a cranky toddler and an unruly dog at the same time. With both hands full, it’s hard to do anything well. But eliminate either one and you’ll do a better job with the other.”

Christensen will use his work in Papua New Guinea to illustrate how co-infection works and why fundamental knowledge of mosquito immune function is critical for understanding both filariasis elimination and the future spread of malaria.

Although global public health initiatives generally tackle one disease at a time, Christensen will argue that a more integrated approach would improve control of vector-borne diseases in underdeveloped regions.

Christensen is the H. Edwin Young Professor at the University of Wisconsin and professor of pathobiological sciences. He is a former president of the American Society of Parasitologists, an adviser to various governments, and the winner of many research awards. He has published nearly 200 scientific articles.

The Global Diseases: Voices from the Vanguard lecture series features international leaders in the battle against infectious diseases that claim millions of lives each year. It continues on March 22 with AIDS organizer Dazon Dixon Diallo, founder of SisterLove, Inc., and concludes on April 21 with water expert Jenna Davis of Stanford University.

The series is a joint effort of Patricia Thomas, UGA’s Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Daniel G. Colley, director of UGA’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases. After each lecture in the UGA Chapel, a reception is held next door at Demosthenian Hall. For additional information, see