Parasitology and Epidemiology Group

Who we are

image of a parasite The PE group consists of investigators studying molecular and biochemical Parasitology, the landscape/spatial epidemiology of vector borne diseases and the evolutionary and immunological implications of host/parasite interactions. Our research interests span a variety of disciplines and is funded by BBSRC, Innovate UK, the Wellcome Trust, Life Sciences Research Network Wales (LSRNW) and the Welsh Government. We also work in partnership with private commercial and industrial entities and other academic institutions.

What we do

By engaging in basic-science-, co-evolutionary driven- and systems-based- investigations, we collectively address some of the world’s major health problems caused by important biomedical and veterinary pathogens.  Our expertise includes gene level investigations, application of functional genomics-based technologies, high-throughput compound screening, biomarker discovery, host-parasite interactions, immunological investigations, evolutionary studies, ecological epidemiology, mathematical modelling, GIS, satellite and aerial remote sensing and climate modelling. Our studies consider a range of infectious diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, protozoa, microsporidia and helminths.

Members

  • Prof. Peter Brophy (Helminths, drug resistance, proteomics, functional genomics)
  • Dr Iain Chalmers (Helminths, gene characterisation, vaccines)
  • Dr. Jo Hamilton (Proteomics, host parasite interactions)
  • Prof. Karl Hoffmann (Helminths, developmental biology, drug screening, host parasite interactions, transcriptomics, immunobiology, functional genomics)
  • Dr Russ Morphew (Helminths, Proteomics, Protein Biochemistry and Protein Interactions)
  • Dr. Justin Pachebat (Protozoa, microbes, viruses, genomics, transcriptomics)
  • Dr Claire Risley (Epidemiology of infectious diseases, biodiversity, conservation modelling)
  • Dr Martin Swain (Bioinformatics for high-throughput DNA sequencing in genomics, transcriptomics, epigenomics, metagenomics, and metatranscriptomics)
  • Prof. Chris Thomas (Landscape epidemiology and climate modelling, ecology of vector borne diseases, malaria)
  • Dr. Hefin Williams (Climate modelling of veterinary and agricultural pathogens, bovine tuberculosis and spatial habitat suitability modelling)
  • Dr Kathy Geyer (Postdoctoral Research Associate)
  • Dr Helen Whiteland (Postdoctoral Research Associate)
  • Dr Anand Chakroborty (Postdoctoral Research Associate)
  • Dr Rebekah Stuart (Postdoctoral Research Associate)

Facilities

IBERS has a long history of substantial investment in facilities.  As a result, staff and students in IBERS enjoy access to a formidable range of state-of-the-art equipment in first class laboratories.  In addition, the geographic location of IBERS brings unrivalled access to natural habitats and managed landscapes.  All of this is complemented by the excellent library resources (including the nearby National Library of Wales) and IT network available to the University as a whole.

Principal facilities supporting the Parasitology and Epidemiology Research Group include:

Roboworm: An automated high-content imaging platform enabling the repositioning of existing drugs or the identification of new compounds as next-generation anthelmintics (compounds that kill parasitic worms). The platform has a projected capacity of 100,000 tests per annum and comprises an integrated tissue culture facility, automated compound distribution/washing workstation and high content image analysis system coupled to customised software for segregating drug-induced schistosome phenotypes. This unique system draws together the very latest advancements in instrumentation and dramatically transforms the speed in which new anti-schistosomals can be identified. Aberystwyth University is opening up a new era of collaborative, interdisciplinary research in the fight against neglected tropical diseases of global importance. Please contact Prof. Karl Hoffmann (krh@aber.ac.uk) if you are interested in using this facility.

‌‌Advanced Microscopy and Bio-Imaging Laboratory: The Advanced Microscopy and Bio-imaging Laboratory was established in 2002 and is based in the refurbished electron microscope facility of IBERS. The laboratory has a Hitachi S-4700 field emission scanning electron microscope (FESEM), a JEOL 1010 transmission electron microscope (TEM) and a JEOL 840A cryo-scanning electron microscope (CSEM) and a Leica confocal laser scanning microscope (TCS SP5). Also available are fluorescence, polarising and interference contrast microscopes. A new addition in 2015 is a Leica LMD6000 Laser Microdissection microscope (LMD). The Advanced Microscopy and Bio-Imaging Laboratory team has considerable experience in dealing with a vast range of specimens both biological and material and is happy to discuss potential applications and proposals for collaborative research. If interested in using this facility, please contact Alan Cookson (akc@aber.ac.uk).

Together with a range of other IBERS facilities:

  • Biological Service Unit
  • Mass Spectrometry and Analytical Unit
  • Trophic Interaction Facility for modelling systems-level processes
  • Microarray Facility for transcriptomic analyses
  • Facilities for DNA sequencing, metabolomics and proteomics
  • Modeling laboratory for spatial and temporal integration of biological data

News

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Events

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Publications

Some of Our Current Projects

Flatworm Functional Genomics Initiative (FUGI): A consortium of eight partner organisations from around the world, led by Aberystwyth University and funded by a £3.7M Wellcome Trust Strategic Award, collaborating to develop game-changing research tools for the study and manipulation of parasitic flatworm species responsible for the devastating diseases echinococcosis (hydatid disease) and schistosomiasis (bilharzia).

Hit Discovery for Schistosomiasis: A Wellcome Trust Pathfinder Award using Aberystwyth University’s automated high-throughput screening platform, ‘Roboworm’, to test a unique set of novel chemotypes for anti-schistosomal activity, with the aim of identifying new starting points for initiating a drug discovery programme.  In collaboration with the Dundee Drug Discovery Unit, these new anti-schistosomal hits will be progressed as part of a PZQ replacement or combinatorial strategy for meeting the future healthcare needs of those individuals living in schistosomiasis-endemic regions across the globe. 

Barrett Centre for Helminth Control (BCHC): The sustainable control of parasitic worms causing agricultural-, veterinary- and biomedical- diseases will increasingly rely on the development of more sensitive diagnostics/biomarkers, prophylactic vaccines and therapeutic drugs.  Within AU, an internationally recognised group of PIs (led by IBERS with critical input from IMPACS) has collaboratively embraced this challenge and begun developing innovative approaches for combating worm diseases of animals and humans.  The formation of the BCHC interdisciplinary research centre will centralise these international collaborative research activities and bring them to bear on some of the most difficult to treat infectious diseases on our planet.

Other notable projects include:

  • Saponins Evaluation for Efficacy Against Liver Fluke: A 3-year Innovate UK-funded project awarded to a consortium of 4 industrial partners and 2 universities (Naturiol Bangor Ltd, Rideway Research Ltd, Phytoquest Ltd, Telsol Ltd, Bangor and Aberystwyth Universities)
  • Roboworm 2: LSRNW-funded project using Aberystwyth University’s automated platform for compound screening against helminth parasites Repositioning histone methyltransferase inhibitors as next generation anthelmintics: LSRNW-funded PhD studentship
  • Increasing the selectivity and potency of a novel anthelmintic chemical entity: LSRNW -funded PhD studentship

Studentships, Training and Opportunities

Postgraduate Research

There are a range of research postgraduate opportunities for EU and international students to study Parasitology for a MPhil and PhD degree (https://jobs.aber.ac.uk/en/home.html). Please contact one of our Reseach Group Members if you wish to discuss a postgraduate project.

Fellowships

IBERS has outstanding facilities to host independent research fellowships within parasitology and epidemiology-related areas and we offer support and an excellent working environment to help develop your ideas. If you are interested in pursuing Fellowship funding to work with us, please feel free to contact us to discuss your ideas at an early stage. Contact: Professors Hoffmann, Thomas or Brophy in the first instance.  

Additionally, if your research is related to helminth control and aligned to our BCHC research strengths (molecular helminthology, vaccinology, anthelmintics and diagnostics), funding to support may be available via the BCHC interdisciplinary research centre at Aberystwyth. For more information, please contact Professor Karl Hoffmann, Director of the BCHC, via e-mail bchc.uk@gmail.com or see our website, www.bchc.aber.ac.uk for more details.  

History of Aberystwyth Parasitology

In the summer of 1930, Prof R.D. Laurie, the then Prof. of Zoology at Aberystwyth, appointed Dr F.G. Rees (right) as an assistant lecturer in Zoology. She subsequently spent the rest of her professional career in Aberystwyth and established the department as a centre of excellence for Parasitology research. In 1971 she was awarded a personal chair by the University of Wales and shortly after, elected as a fellow of the Royal Society. Among her many achievements Prof Rees F.R.S. was a founder member of the British Society for Parasitology  (president 1974-76), an honorary fellow of the American society for Parasitology and Chairman of the editorial board of Parasitology (1970-81). In 1990 she was awarded the Linnean Society medal for Zoology. Her research was in the area of helminthology, concentrating on the systematics, comparative functional anatomy, histology and life cycles of trematodes and cestodes. The work was important in defining the relationship between parasites and their invertebrate intermediate hosts. Her papers were meticulously researched and illustrated with superb line drawings. During her career of teaching and research she supervised 200 honours students, 11 MSc students and 14 PhDs, several of whom went on to become prominent parasitologists in their own areas of research.

Other notable AU parasitologists recruited within Prof. Rees’s tenure included Dr M.L.R. Johnston and Dr J. Barrett (left).  Dr Johnston, appointed in 1968, undertook research on parasitic protozoa and biological control of arthropods. Dr J. Barrett, appointed 1973, initiated research into helminth biochemistry with an emphasis on comparative energy metabolism and detoxification mechanisms.

During his tenure within the Institute of Biological Sciences (now IBERS), Dr Barrett was appointed Prof. and Head of Department and subsequently Pro-vice Chancellor of the University during 2000-2006. He was awarded the C.A. Wright medal of the British Society for Parasitology in 1985 and the Bueding-von Brand medal of the American Society for Parasitology in 2001. Prof. Barrett was an honorary member of the Bulgarian Society for Parasitology and was president of the British Society for Parasitology (2006-2008). Sadly Prof. Barrett passed away in early 2011; his daily contribution to Parasitology will be greatly missed.

In 2007, AU demonstrated its further commitment towards supporting Parasitological related activities by recruiting three new research scientists; Prof. Brophy from Liverpool University, Prof. Hoffmann from the University of Cambridge and Prof. Thomas from Durham University.  The future direction of the newly formed AU Parasitology and Epidemiology group (PE) within IBERS is now firmly in the hands of these three individuals.  Working together, the PE group will ensure that our individual research activities remain internationally competitive while simultaneously delivering the very best in AU undergraduate and post-graduate training.