Neglected tropical diseases research

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a group of debilitating, disfiguring, and sometimes deadly, infectious diseases affecting more than 1 billion people worldwide. NTDs are found mainly in tropical and sub-tropical countries and disproportionately affect the poor, often in marginalised communities and conflict areas. The disability and social stigma associated with NTDs can hamper people’s ability to work, attend school and thrive within their families and communities, impacting the development of the world’s poorest communities and countries.

What we are researching

We work on a range of bacterial, viral and parasitic NTDs including Buruli ulcerintestinal worms and rabies, schistosomiasis and echinococcosis.

A key feature of NTD research at Surrey is cross-disciplinary working bringing together biologists, vets, mathematical modellers, engineers, psychologists and artists to address the challenges posed by NTDs. The One Health-One Medicine approach underpins our research. 

We work with universities, research institutions, government ministries and NGOs in endemic countries across sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America. Building capacity in endemic countries to combat NTDs is central to our work.

Our work on NTDs is funded by UK and global funders including UKRI, Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Recently, the University of Surrey has joined the London Centre for Neglected Tropical Disease Research.

Buruli ulcer

Buruli ulcer, caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans, is a chronic, debilitating disease of the skin and soft tissue. The infection is “flesh-eating”, starting as a painless lump, but resulting in extremely large and disfiguring ulcers. These ulcers are usually painless so people often do not seek treatment until late stages of the disease. The bacteria make an oily toxin (mycolactone) that causes the pathology.

Although it is known that Buruli ulcer is acquired from the environment, rather than being spread from person to person, it is not clear how this happens. Buruli ulcer is common in resource-poor and inaccessible rural communities in West Africa. As other skin diseases such as leprosy are found in these areas, diagnosis of Buruli ulcer can be difficult. Although the disease can be treated with a long course of antibiotics, wound healing can sometimes take over a year.

At the University of Surrey we are:

  • Developing improved diagnostic information based on medical illustrations which are better than photographs, in a unique collaboration between artists and scientists.
  • Investigating the role of blood clotting pathways in the progression of the disease.
  • Using mathematical models to explore interactions between the bacteria and host skin and thereby improve treatment.

Intestinal worms

Intestinal worms (also known as soil transmitted helminths) are extremely common and widespread infections of people, particularly in children. Infections can cause intestinal problems, anaemia and stunting and wasting in children, and may even affect school performance. In areas with poor hygiene and sanitation, people become infected through ingesting worm eggs contaminating food or on their hands, or by worms direct directly penetrating their skin. Intestinal worm disease is controlled through regular treatment of people in endemic communities with deworming drugs. However, there are concerns about resistance developing to these drugs, sustainability of deworming programmes and whether deworming alone is enough to stop the spread of worms.

At the University of Surrey, we are:

  • Determining the role played by animals and the environment in the spread of intestinal worms to humans.
  • Investigating resistance to deworming drugs in intestinal worms.
  • Developing new vaccine targets for intestinal worms.


Rabies is caused by a virus that is transmitted in the saliva of infected animals. The virus attacks the nerves and brain of its victims, and the disease is fatal once symptoms appear. Rabies kills one person every 10 minutes throughout the world. The most effective way to control rabies in humans is to control the disease in animals by vaccination. In many parts of the world, domestic dogs are a source of rabies but wildlife can be infected and spread the disease to dogs and humans. Rabies is difficult to eliminate as cultural attitudes to dogs and wildlife vary across the world, leading to misunderstandings which are barriers to control.

Rabies is a disease of poverty which does not respect cultural or political boundaries. In addition, rabies can spread easily from one species to another and remain for a long time hidden in the nervous system, complicating diagnosis. Better diagnostic tests with improved communications and data handling are needed.

At the University of Surrey we are: