Patricia Rutherford
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Schistosomiasis, ancient and modern
The application of scientific techniques to diagnose the disease
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As a consequence of the schistosomiasis tissue bank being established, initially at the Manchester Museum (as described in Parasitology Today, Contis and David 1996), a need for robust, cost effective, reproducible diagnostic tools that could be applied to ancient tissues was recognised. The diagnosis of schistosomiasis in modern patients is usually carried out by microscopically observing ova in faeces, urine or rectal mucosa. Unfortunately, mummified samples do not lend themselves to such tests and this paper will therefore discuss the successful use of immunocytochemistry to overcome the problems encountered whilst working with ancient samples. Immunocytochemistry has proven to be relatively cost affective, preludes other more completed tests and can be adapted to the investigation of other diseases simply by raising the appropriate antiserum towards the disease of interest. Other molecular techniques that have been explored to reinforce positive results, namely, the Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) and DNA analysis will also be considered in this paper. The limitations imposed by the lack of appropriate tissue samples that harbour the infecting schistosomes and ova are considered, together with how overcoming such limitations produces answers relating to issues such as how to approach tissue collection, its preparation and what tests are practical with the aim of minimising unnecessary destruction of finite tissue samples. The paper will also consider how the scientific analysis of physical remains is a much-needed tool as it can clarify speculative hypotheses and provide supportive data that when combined with literary and artistic accounts provide a more complete and complementary picture of ancient culture.

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