UGA microbiologist honored for work in fighting schistosomiasis

UGA microbiologist honored by Brazilian government for work in fighting schistosomiasis, a debilitating, sometimes deadly tropical disease

Salvador, Brazil – Dan Colley, professor of microbiology and director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases, was honored by the Brazilian Ministry of Health in August for his work in fighting schistosomiasis, a debilitating and sometimes fatal parasitic disease.

Colley received the Piraja da Silva Medal, named for Manoel Augusto Piraja da Silva, who discovered the tropical worm infection schistosomiasis in Brazil in 1908, 100 years ago this year. The medal was presented at the 11th International Symposium on Schistosomiasis.

For years, Colley and collaborators in Brazil have conducted in-depth research into the immune responses of people with schistosomiasis. Caused by several species of flatworms of the genus Schistosoma, this neglected tropical disease affects some 200 million people worldwide. It is most common in Asia, Africa and South America, especially where water contains infected freshwater snails, which carry the parasitic worms. The worms enter through the skin as their human hosts swim, wade or wash clothes.

While it has a relatively low mortality rate, schistosomiasis can damage internal organs, and impairs physical and cognitive growth and development in children. Symptoms of infection include abdominal pain, cough, diarrhea, fever, fatigue and often an enlarged liver and spleen. The worms can live in the blood vessels of people for up to 40 years, leading to chronic illness.

Colley was honored in 2005 with Brazil’s highest scientific honor, the Grand Cross of the Order of Scientific Merit, for his collaborative studies on schistosomiasis in Recife and Belo Horizonte, Brazil, from 1970 to 1994. The Piraja da Silva Medal further recognizes Colley’s long-standing commitment and contributions to Brazilian science and trainees. His work led to a deeper understanding of how the body fights schistosomiasis and to improved methods for controlling this and other devastating tropical diseases.

Colley has been director of UGA’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases since 2001. The center is a university-wide, interdisciplinary center established in 1998 to foster research, education and service related to tropical and emerging infectious diseases. In the past decade CTEGD has grown into one of the nation’s preeminent institutes for tropical disease research. The center’s 20 members include faculty from eight UGA departments and four colleges.