I have a general interest in Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD’s), specifically Schistosomiais and my parasitology background spans general parasitology, experimental parasitology, molecular ecology, systematics, phylogenetics, molecular biology, mitogenomics, diagnostics and molecular evolution. Throughout my studies I have pursued research that underlies an understanding of the epidemiology of parasitic diseases. Specifically, my interests lie in the importance of species identification and the development of molecular methods for discerning the relationships and evolution of schistosomes (at the species and population level). Many areas of my research have highlighted the importance of the correct identification of parasites and their hosts in understanding the transmission and epidemiology of these parasites.
I am presently a research associate working with Prof Joanne Webster in the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Imperial College, London. My current research is part of a larger project known as SCORE (The Schistosomiasis Consortium for Operational Research and Evaluation, http://score.uga.edu/), which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This research also involves a close collaboration with Dr David Rollinson and his research team in the Parasites and Vectors division at the Natural History Museum, London.
Schistosomaisis, also known as bilharzias, is a major neglected tropical disease (NTD) caused by parasitic worms that live in the blood vessels of their mammalian hosts and transmitted through contact with fresh water that harbour the parasites intermediate snail hosts.
Schistosomiasis is a chronic disease causing severe morbidity and affects at least 240 million people worldwide. SCORE’s focus is on two of the major human disease causing schistosome species in Africa, South America, and the Middle East – Schistosoma mansoni and Schistosoma haematobium. SCORE’s goal is to find answers that will help develop more effective schistosomiasis control strategies with a vision to inform efforts to gain and sustain control and ultimately eliminate schistosomiasis in endemic areas. My main role in SCORE is to investigate the population genetics of these schistosomes to provide insights into potential changes in schistosome population structure due to varying levels of mass drug administration of praziquantel and other different treatment regimes in endemic areas.
Scope and purpose of my current research
- Provide more up to date and robust population genetic markers to investigate the population genetics of S. mansoni and S. haematobium and to monitor the epidemiology of and the changes in population structure of these parasites in relations to drug treatment pressure.
- To provide insights into how the parasite populations respond to different treatment regimes being instigated by SCORE with an aim to provide evidence for which control regimes are most effective in gaining control of these parasite populations.
- The potential for the possible development of drug resistance of these parasites is imminent. It is hoped that this research will monitor this potential risk by detecting and tracking persistent parasite genotypes that reduce treatment success.
Outline of my current research
- The optimisation of new microsatellite genetic markers to study the population genetics of S. haematobium
- Development of molecular techniques to facilitate the use of DNA from single schistosome larval stages stored on Whatman FTA cards for multiple genetic analyses
- To use the newly developed microsatellite multiplex PCR’s to investigate the populations genetics of S. haematobium in Niger and Zanzibar and S. mansoni in Tanzania before and after different treatment regimes
- To use DNA ‘barcoding’ approaches to monitor the genetic diversity of the schistosome populations and detect hybridisation events with non-human schistosome species
- To carry out field work to various study sites to collect schistosome larval stages from infected humans and intermediate snail hosts for genetic analysis
- I obtained a BSc in Zoology from the University College London. I conducted my third year degree research project in the Department of Zoology at the Natural History Museum, on the interactions and epidemiology of schistosomes: Project title: Mating interactions of Schistosoma haematobium and S. mansoni. I went on to do a PhD in the Department of Zoology at The Natural History Museum through University College London. During my PhD I investigated the interactions and epidemiology of S. haematobium and S. guineensis and their hybrids and host-parasite relationships of these species. Thesis title: On the interactions of Schistosoma haematobium, S. guineensis and their hybrids in the laboratory and in the field.
Past Post Doctoral positions
- Wellcome Trust Research Associate in the Parasitic Worms Division of the Natural History Museum. I gained research experience with many different parasitic and free-living worms e.g. monogeneans, cestodes, digeneans and turbellarians, whilst studying the interrelationships of the Platyhelminthes and the evolution of parasitism.
- Research fellow on a EU-funded (FP6) project called CONTRAST (http://eu-contrast.eu). A multidisciplinary alliance to optimize schistosomiasis control and transmission in sub-Saharan Africa. I worked on many aspects of schistosome biology both in the laboratory and the field. One of my main objectives was to develop a molecular nomenclature for the classification of genetic variation within schistosome populations using a DNA barcoding approach.
Collaborative Initiatives / Research
- London Centre for Neglected Tropical Disease Research (LCNTDR) http://www.londonntd.org/
- Parasites and Vectors Division the Natural History Museum http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/life-sciences/parasites-vectors/
- Schistosome Collection at the Natural History Museum (SCAN)
- Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, Imperial College (SCI)
et al., 2013, Population genetic structure of Schistosoma mansoni and Schistosoma haematobium from across six sub-Saharan African countries: Implications for epidemiology, evolution and control, Acta Tropica, Vol:128, ISSN:0001-706X, Pages:261-274
et al., 2013, DNA 'barcoding' of Schistosoma mansoni across sub-Saharan Africa supports substantial within locality diversity and geographical separation of genotypes, Acta Tropica, Vol:128, ISSN:0001-706X, Pages:250-260
et al., 2013, Introgressive Hybridization of Schistosoma haematobium Group Species in Senegal: Species Barrier Break Down between Ruminant and Human Schistosomes, Plos Neglected Tropical Diseases, Vol:7, Pages:e2110-e2110
et al., 2012, Genetic Diversity within Schistosoma haematobium: DNA Barcoding Reveals Two Distinct Groups, Plos Neglected Tropical Diseases, Vol:6, ISSN:1935-2735
Webster BL, Littlewood DTJ, 2012, Mitochondrial gene order change in Schistosoma (Platyhelminthes: Digenea: Schistosomatidae), International Journal for Parasitology, Vol:42, ISSN:0020-7519, Pages:313-321