Ben Makepeace was trained in medical parasitology and entomology at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) before completing a PhD in innate immunity to sexually-transmitted bacteria in humans at the University of Southampton. Following a brief postdoctoral position on meningococcal meningitis in Southampton, he returned to LSTM to join Sandy Trees? group, where he worked on immunity to Onchocerca ochengi in Cameroon. In 2008, he moved to the University of Liverpool and was appointed to a proleptic lectureship position in 2011. His current research interests include the filaria-Wolbachia symbiosis and the relationship between symbionts and pathogens in the Acari.
Benjamin L. Makepeace1, Germanus S. Bah1,2, Stuart D. Armstrong1, Alistair C. Darby3 and Vincent N. Tanya4
Human onchocerciasis or river blindness is a devastating neglected tropical disease affecting 30 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. The microfilariae of Onchocerca volvulus are responsible for all of the major disease manifestations, comprising severe dermatitis, depigmentation of the skin, and visual impairment, which can lead to irreversible blindness. In the early 1990s, researchers from the University of T?bingen and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine recognised the enormous potential of a parasite of African cattle, Onchocerca ochengi, as an ideal “analogue” of human onchocerciasis. Many trials of macrofilaricidal drug and vaccine candidates in this system followed in northern Cameroon, but it was the unexpected response of adult O. ochengi to a decades-old antibiotic, oxytetracycline, that contributed to a revolution in our understanding of both the basic biology of filarial nematodes and their treatment. Subsequently, the O. ochengi system has provided deep insights into a fascinating symbiosis with Wolbachia, an endobacterium that was previously believed to only infect arthropods. Here, I will describe how a combination of classical histological techniques combined with next-generation sequencing and proteomics have enabled a gradual unveiling of the role of Wolbachia in O. ochengi, which almost certainly functions on several levels. Contrary to expectations, Wolbachia’s contribution to the symbiosis is not limited to metabolic provisioning, but extends to immune evasion, suggesting that the endobacteria have an important part to play in the extraordinary longevity of Onchocerca spp.