Biological Sciences

New exhibition features University research tackling deadly parasitic diseases

A new exhibition highlighting Scottish research tackling parasitic diseases has opened at the National Museum of Scotland, and runs until 19 April 2020.

Parasite Exhibition Flyer

Parasites: Battle for Survival showcases ongoing research in Scotland that is helping  eliminate tropical diseases by tackling the parasites that cause them.

The exhibition features five diseases that thrive in areas where health and sanitation systems are at their poorest: Malaria, Guinea worm disease, sleeping sickness, schistosomiasis and leishmaniasis.

Spotlight on Edinburgh research tackling Malaria and Schistosomiasis

The five diseases explored by the exhibition: Malaria, Schistosomiasis, Leishmaniasis, Sleeping Sickness and Guinea Worm
The five diseases explored by the exhibition: Malaria, Schistosomiasis, Leishmaniasis, Sleeping Sickness and Guinea Worm

During development of the exhibition, staff at the Museum worked closely with colleagues in Edinburgh Infectious Diseases, and partners in the Wellcome Trust Centre for Integrative Parasitology at the University of Glasgow and Wellcome Trust Centre  for Anti-Infectives Research at the University of Dundee. 

The exhibition features research by School of Biological Sciences researchers Professors Sarah Reece and Francisca Mutapi.

Parasite evolution 

Research in Sarah's lab seeks to uncover the strategies malaria parasites have evolved to cope with challenges of their lifestyle and exploit the opportunities it brings.

Her research has revealed that parasites can tell the time and schedule their multiplication in the blood to coincide with their host’s meal times.

This likely allows them to coordinate their transmission with the night-biting of mosquitoes. By revealing the decisions parasites make and the information they use, scientists can find weak points to exploit.

Controlling Schistosomiasis

Work in Francisca's lab has made major contributions to Zimbabwe’s national schistosomiasis control program, which is targeting all 5 million schoolchildren in the country. 

Over the last seven years, the programme has reduced national infection and disease prevalence in schoolchildren from around 30% to less than 1%. 

The control programme is now being rolled out to include pre-school children for the first time, helping to further reduce disease morbidity and mortality.

The exhibition features work by Annette MacLeod at the University of Glasgow, tacking sleeping sickness, and research by Susan Wyllie at the University of Dundee, who is pioneering drug discovery to treat Leishmaniasis. 

The exhibition also highlights the enormous progress made in the fight against Guinea worm, which may soon be completely eradicated.


The cutting-edge research taking place right here in Scotland is incredibly exciting and could mean that these deadly diseases will be consigned to history in the not-too-distant future.  If successful, it would be the first time a human disease has been eradicated since smallpox was wiped out in 1979.

 The important work taking place to eliminate these deadly diseases goes far beyond laboratories however. Research and drug development is key, but the right public health messaging and collaborative work on the ground is just as crucial, and that’s an important strand of this exhibition.

Sophie GogginsExhibition curator

Workshops for schools

Boat with a blue flag used to attract tsetse flies and reduce spread of sleeping sickness.
Boat with a blue flag used to attract tsetse flies and reduce spread of sleeping sickness.

A key aim of the exhibition is to engage the next generation of researchers in the fight against these devastating diseases. 

Alongside the exhibition itself, an extensive programme of workshops has been developed by the partner universities. 

These free workshops are aimed at S1-S6 pupils in schools across Scotland, and delve deeper into the diseases featured in the exhibition. 

Details of the workshops, and how to book are on the museum's Eventbrite pages.

Parasites workshops

Teacher-led visits

Related Links

Parasites: Battle for Survival, National Museum of Scotland

Edinburgh Infectious Diseases

Sarah Reece's Lab 

Francisca Mutapi - Tackling Infection to Benefit Africa (TIBA) Global Health Unit

Wellcome Trust Centre for Integrative Parasitology, University of Glasgow

Wellcome Trust Centre for Anti-Infectives Research, University of Dundee