My main research interests are in the molecular epidemiology of parasites where I have major projects including a long term interest in trypanosomes. In this research, we have developed molecular tools for tracking trypanosomes and shown the importance of cattle reservoir hosts on the generation of human sleeping sickness epidemics. More recently we have been developing and evaluating tools for determining prevalences of trypanosomiasis in African cattle. My current projects in this area based around developing a detailed understanding of mobile genetic elements as tools for epidemiology and on using molecular approaches to investigate host-parasite interactions (specifically immune genes like toll-like receptors) in relation to the health of African cattle. I conduct this work in collaboration with scientists at the University of Edinburgh, UK.
Another principal area of my research has been to investigate the role of vertical transmission as a means by which the parasite Toxoplasma gondii is spread. This parasite is a parasite specifically of the cat but is highly successful. It infects all warm blooded animals, including infecting some 30% of the human population globally! My interest is in understanding how this parasite can be so successful. We have been principally interested in the role of mother to offspring (congenital/vertical transmission) as a mode of parasite spread.
I have other ongoing projects which are focused around the epidemiology of Toxoplasma, the related parasite Neospora and other parasites in natural populations such as woodmice, rabbits, rats, british bats, badgers and urban pests. As part of this, I was included in a Salford team that discovered a new species of parasite, Notocotylus malhamensis. Our recent work is focussed on investigating DNA sequence variation and epigenetic variation in genes of the innate immune system in animal and human hosts.
I have ongoing research collaborations with Professor Zhao-Rong Lun in Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou in China. We are interested in the cellular mechanisms that determine the virulence of Toxoplasma gondii in mammalian hosts. We have recently published some exciting research that shows that the balance of expression of two enzymes, Arginase 1 (Arg) and inducible Nitric Oxide Synthase (iNOS), can determine virulence. We have shown that in mice, a species highly susceptible to Toxoplasma infection, have high Arg and low iNOS levels, while rats, that are resistant to the parasite, have low Arg and high iNOS. We have also shown the involvement of the P2Y2 receptor and guanylate binding proteins in host-parasite interactions with Toxoplasma – these are published in two papers in PNAS. As part of this collaboration, we have also been collating data on the prevalence of the parasite in China and we published on infection prevalence in pregnant women in China. We have recently investigated the possible role of Toxoplasma infection in causing post-partum depression. Fortunately, our study demonstrated that there was no link between these conditions.
In a recent ongoing study, in collaboration with colleagues at Manchester University, we have made some exciting findings on Toxoplasma infection in lung cancer patients. This study showed that all of the patients in our sample (72) all had evidence of Toxoplasma infection in their lungs. This is a potentially very important discovery as it may influence the effectiveness of anticancer treatments. We are currently exploring this further.
Current and Past Projects
Details of my current research activity can be found:
in my Salford Profile Page, and