Home » Neglected Tropical Diseases » Working together to gain greater insight – and develop better solutions for NTDs

Dr Martha Betson

Senior Lecturer in Veterinary Parasitology, 
University of Surrey

NTD researchers should take an interdisciplinary approach. Bringing together a broad coalition of expertise results in greater insight — and better outcomes. 

The global challenges posed by neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are vast and complex. That’s why research should be carried out in an interdisciplinary and collaborative way, says Dr Martha Betson, Senior Lecturer in Veterinary Parasitology at University of Surrey, an institution studying bacterial, viral and parasitic NTDs. A coalition of cross-sectorial expertise can lead to greater insight and, ultimately, better solutions.

Dr Betson and her team are working on a Philippines-based initiative investigating the role that animals play in spread of intestinal worm infections to humans. “The project involves experts in parasite biology, human medicine, animal medicine, mathematical modelling and economics,” she explains. “We believe it’s vital to address problems in this interdisciplinary way, because simply understanding the biology of the infectious agent doesn’t give us the whole picture of the disease, or how human factors can influence infection spread.”

This interdisciplinary approach is adopted consistently by Surrey NTD researchers. Dr Joaquin Prada’s work with the NTD Modelling Consortium and World Health Organization to assess and respond to the impact of COVID on NTD control programmes is underpinned by mathematics. Dr Rachel Simmonds and her group focus on Buruli ulcer, a chronic stigmatising skin infection. She and a medical illustrator are developing the first medical illustrations of the disease, to help health-workers spot infections earlier.

Fostering a culture that encourages collaboration

By engaging with partners in NTD endemic countries, researchers gain a better understanding of the local situation and factors that can affect disease control. “Partners in these countries can offer real insight into the stigma surrounding NTDs, or how well communities will accept particular interventions,” says Dr Betson. “They can also engage with key players in local communities to explain the research that is undertaken.” Local engagement means it is possible to deliver research results to those that need them most, such as the presentation of Dr Dan Horton’s rabies work at the Middle East Rabies Control network directly to those dealing with rabies every day.

Simply understanding the biology
of the infectious agent doesn’t give
us the whole picture of the disease.

Dr Betson believes that academic institutions should foster a culture that actively encourages cross-faculty collaboration and partnerships with external organisations. She recommends the ‘one health, one medicine’ vision advocated by University of Surrey. “This recognises the linkage between human health, animal health, plants and the environment,” she says. “It is fundamental to much of the research we do.”

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