Serra / Bazzocchi

Valentina Serra graduated in Veterinary Biotechnology Science Master’s Degree at the University of Milano in July 2014 with the highest honors. She is author of the thesis “Antibiotic treatment of the tick Ixodes ricinus: influence on the presence of the symbiotic bacterium Midichloria mitochondrii in different development stages”. After graduation she worked for a year in the parasitology laboratory of the Department of Veterinary Science and Public Health on the detection of antibodies against M. mitochondrii in different vertebrate hosts such as human, roe deer and gerbil parasitized by I. ricinus ticks. She is co-author of two scientific papers published in international journals (Cafiso et al., 2015 Journal of Fish Diseases doi:10.1111/jfd.12371; Ninio et al., 2015 Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases 6:653-657), and author of four abstracts for national and international conferences (SOIPA 2014, Pathobiome 2015, and ICAP 2015).


Dr. Chiara Bazzocchi is researcher in Veterinary Parasitology from 2006. She has published 49 papers on international scientific journals with impact factor and these publications have been cited more than 1200 times with an H-index of 18. CB has been unit leader of 2 national projects (PRIN-MIUR 2006 and PRIN-MIUR 2008) and actually is the principal investigator of the national project PRIN-MIUR 2012.
The research group in which CB is involved, identified for the first time the presence of a bacterial endosymbiont both in the nematode Dirofilaria immitis (Wolbachia) and in the hard tick Ixodes ricinus (Midichloria mitochondrii); these results had an impact, in both cases, of international importance. In particular, CB published the first evidence of the immunological role of the endosymbiont of filarial nematodes opening to a new reconsideration of humans and animals immunopathology. Recently, CB and co-workers showed that a protein of M. mitochondrii (symbiont of the tick I. ricinus) is recognized by the immune system of the vertebrate host after the tick blood meal (humans and dog); these results showed for the first time evidence that M. mitochondrii should be considered as an infective agent for vertebrates.


RESEARCH PROJECT

Ixodes ricinus: a multidisciplinary approach for the development of anti-tick vaccines and serological markers for tick bite

The tick Ixodes ricinus is widely recognized as the most important ectoparasite in Europe and is responsible for the transmission of many diseases. I. ricinus also hosts the intracellular bacterium Midichloria mitochondrii (Order Rickettsiales) whose pathological role in the vertebrate host is still unknown, although its transmission is demonstrated. The characteristics of the tick bite (absence of pain, rarity of immediate symptoms) make it difficult to estimate the actual health impact of this parasite, and lead to a high risk of occult chronic infections.
The impact of these infections on human health is a matter of debate, but most of the authors agree in considering the tick bite as a risk factor for the development of various chronic degenerative diseases. Where the risk of infection is high, and/or the resulting disease is severe, vaccines may be the most efficient and cost effective means of prevention and control.

Anti-tick vaccines targeting other tick species already exist and are being used in the veterinary field. For example, application of anti-tick vaccines was shown to decrease the incidence of bovine babesiosis in South America. Treatment of wild animals (i.e. deer, the most parasitized host by I. ricinus) present in a circumscribed area with an anti-I. ricinus vaccine, could be capable both of reducing the number of I. ricinus nymphs and adults and of decreasing the possibility of diseases transmission to other animals and humans.
This research study will address the problem of tick bite by creating a test based on serological markers to detect the bite of I. ricinus. The research will be focused on the development of the test based on markers derived both from tick salivary proteins and from proteins of the symbiont M. mitochondrii (present in the salivary glands) to obtain a wide range of antigen candidates.
The application of the test in an epidemiological context will allow to determine the pressure of tick bite on wild and domestic animals and to determine if the bite is correlated with chronic diseases in humans, as well as to contribute to the diagnosis of tick-borne diseases.
Furthermore, these antigens will be a starting point for the development of anti-I. ricinus vaccines. It is well known that the saliva of ticks causes an immune response that can protect the host from subsequent infestations. Data are already published on vaccines based on crude protein preparations from salivary glands, mostly for the protection of livestock.