Press release

Giant parasite alert in Glasgow's West End!

Visitors to Glasgow’s West End should take extra care this weekend: a giant purple monster is expected to be working its way through the crowds.

The seven-metre-long parasite - 500,000 times its natural size - resembles a Chinese dragon and will be making a guest appearance at the West End Festival Parade in Glasgow. It will also appear in a comic book special.

Fortunately, the giant parasite is made of fabric and is harmless. But its real-life counterpart, the trypanosome - usually just less than one three-hundredth the size of a grain of rice - can be deadly. It causes African sleeping sickness, a devastating illness thought to infect as many as 70,000 people and countless animals on the continent. Spread by the tsetse fly, African trypanosomes cause lethargy, insomnia, coma and eventual death in humans if untreated.

This unusual addition to the Festival is the brainchild of Jamie Hall, a researcher at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Molecular Parasitology at the University of Glasgow.

"African sleeping sickness is a terrible disease, but scientists are working hard to understand its causes and how we might tackle it - and Glasgow is at the cutting edge of this research," he says. "We wanted to tell everyone about the disease and to showcase the great work that's happening on their doorstep."

The Wellcome Trust Centre for Molecular Parasitology, yards from the bustling cafés of Byres Road, is a thriving enclave of research into tropical disease. Researchers from across the globe come to the Centre to study some of the world's most important parasites, such as those that cause malaria and leishmaniasis. These diseases affect hundreds of millions of people and are a crippling economic burden on some of the poorest people on the planet.

To help illustrate the science behind the trypanosome and the work of the Centre, Edinburgh-based artist Edward Ross has produced a comic book, explaining what goes on behind the scenes. The comic book will be given out at the Festival to accompany the trypanosome.

Edward says: "When I heard of Jamie's plans I was excited by the strangeness and audacity of it. A horror-movie creature attacking Glasgow! I knew instantly that a comic would be a great way to engage with and explore the world of these organisms, and let people know that these monsters, although microscopic, are very, very real. Comics are disarming, engaging and a perfect way to take a subject usually misconceived as dry and impenetrable, and make it interesting for a whole new audience."

This project hopes to raise awareness of the world-leading parasitology research going on at the University and the Wellcome Trust Centre. The Centre, funded by the Wellcome Trust since 1987, carries out research of major international significance, trying to understand how these parasites work down to the molecular level. Working closely with other groups, this understanding will pave the way for new strategies to control parasites and prevent or cure the diseases they cause.