The aim of our group is to increase the knowledge of the molecular relationships between the parasites that cause zoonotic and livestock diseases and their hosts in order to identify useful parasitic molecules for the development of anti-parasitic vaccines, new diagnostic tests and new anti-hemostatic and immunomodulatory drugs.
The group develops two main lines of research involving trematode helminths and haematophagous arthropods (ticks).
Among helminths, the main subject of our studies is Fasciola hepatica, a trematode that causes fasciolosis, a disease with a significant negative impact on livestock production in temperate areas worldwide, especially in cattle and sheep, as well as an emerging public health problem in endemic areas. Our scientific approach involves the establishment of models, both “in vitro” and “ex vivo” and “in vivo” that allow us to dissect the bidirectional relationship of the parasite with certain compartments of the host, and thus be able to select important molecules in this relationship by applying the latest “omics” and genetic engineering techniques.
This will provide useful knowledge for a more rational selection of targets, which could improve the efficacy of the tools that have been developed so far for the prevention and control not only of fasciolosis, but also of other parasitic diseases.
In addition, since 2020, promising data obtained from these models regarding the immunomodulatory capacity of F. hepatica have led us to study the possible involvement of molecules of this parasite against the infective capacity of the causative agent of COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2.
Regarding ticks, our group studies two species of Argasidae, or soft ticks, of the genus Ornithodoros, O. erraticus and O. moubata, as they are the main vectors of African swine fever (ASF) and human relapsing fever in the Mediterranean basin and in the African continent, respectively. Our objective is the identification of protective antigens for the development of vaccines to control ticks and the diseases they transmit.
For this we use a vaccum approach that includes:
⇒ Obtaining “omics” data from the two main parasitic compartments at the parasite-host interface, the salivary glands and the midgut, where ticks express molecules that enable blood ingestion and digestion and facilitate pathogen transmission;
⇒ The integration and analysis of the corresponding transcriptomes and proteomes and the theoretical selection of antigenic candidates based on hypothesis-driven criteria (overexpression, function, antigenicity, membrane expression, etc.).
⇒ The evaluation of the protective efficacy of selected candidates in animal immunization tests. In this way we have identified several intestinal antigens with protective capacity that can be combined with salivary antigens to develop multi-antigenic vaccines for the control of these ticks and other hematophagous vectors. Regarding technology transfer, the group has developed and commercializes a serological test to diagnose O. moubata parasitism in African countries.