Tomsk and the Netherlands united in the fight against opisthorchiasis

13 March 2020

Syrian hamsters, Dutch scientists, and Siberian opisthorchis - what do they have in common? Daria Kokova, a staff member at Tomsk State University (now the head of the Laboratory of Clinical Metabolomics) found these common grounds in order to ultimately help doctors treat opisthorchiasis - a very common disease among Siberians who often eat river fish.

- I dreamed of becoming a lawyer and could not even imagine that someday I would connect my life with chemistry, - said Daria Kokova. I entered the correspondence department of the TSU Faculty of Law and studied one course there, and then it became clear that jurisprudence was not mine at all, but the desire to stay at Tomsk State University was strong. I decided to rely on fate, and come to the selection committee, I just randomly chose the chemistry department. To say that my choice was a shock is to say nothing. I hated chemistry at school but was no longer going to retreat.

Despite my skepticism about chemistry, at pre-entry training, the whole beauty of chemistry as a science was revealed to me already. A huge number of interwoven areas, harmonious theories, and a bewitching feeling that using chemistry you can understand almost everything about the structure of things and nature, responded in me with renewed vigor during my studies at the Faculty of Chemistry. For five years, I was thrown into various areas - from inorganic to physical chemistry, I practically lived in the laboratory. In searching for the area in which I would like to develop, I came to analytical chemistry and biomedicine, which I like and have remained my passion so far, and I hope that this will be for a long time.

As part of a joint project, I worked at Leiden University. And when in 2014 the program to support those who independently entered leading universities was launched, I, of course, wanted to take part in it and go to graduate school. The main objective of my dissertation was the study of experimental opisthorchiasis using metabolomics. Metabolomics is a post-genomic science, and metabolomics research combines the achievements of analytical chemistry and the analysis of a large amount of data, thereby opening up a completely different approach to the design of the study and interpretation of the results. Opisthorchiasis was used as a model.

Our hypothesis was based on the fact that as a result of its vital activity the fish parasite changes the metabolism of the host, thereby leading to the development of concomitant pathologies. As a result, we have shown that opisthorchis not only changes the function of the liver but also affects the metabolism of amino acids and fats and affects the energy metabolism of its host.

My dissertation is a necessary stage in the study of such a complex disease as opisthorchiasis, and obtaining reliable results would be difficult in real conditions. Now we are ready to move on to the next stage of metabolic profiling of opisthorchiasis and are already actively working with the Siberian State Medical University on a clinical metabolic study, which means research with people.

What will this give to medicine? Biomedicine is an applied thing, here something rarely comes from a love of science, the prospect of practical application is necessary. So, for example, in the world, the question of drug resistance is becoming ever more acute, and this applies not only to antimicrobial drugs but also to anthelmintics. Our study is important in understanding the parasite-host relationship, which opens up new possibilities in developing new drugs and improving existing ones. In addition, worldwide there is an active search for vaccines for completely different diseases, because as you know it is better to warn than to treat. Perhaps this area will be interesting for opisthorchiasis, and our study may contribute to the development of a vaccine against this hidden threat.

Now, upon returning to Tomsk, much remains to be done, but I am glad to be back and glad that fate gave me the Netherlands with its windmills and tulip fields.