On January 16, 2018, IBERS-funded PhD student Kezia Whatley successfully defended her thesis entitled: “Synergistic application of high-throughput screening (HTS) and high content imaging (HCI) technologies with in silico drug repositioning techniques to identify new chemotherapeutic targets in Schistosoma mansoni”. Supervised by Prof. Karl Hoffmann, Kezia helped set up a HTS platform based on a sister screening platform at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as part of her PhD. This HTS platform, named Roboworm, enables the screening of compound collections against the larval stage of S. mansoni. This parasite is one of several Schistosoma sp., responsible to for causing the neglected tropical disease schistosomiasis which affects >218 million people globally. Additionally to this, Kezia also set up a simple and cost efficient cytotoxicity assay against Human Caucasian Hepatocyte Carcinoma (HepG2) cells, to enable an initial determination of compound toxicity. The skill sets obtained during her PhD have enabled Kezia to continue working in Prof. Karl Hoffmann’s research group on two research projects. Initially, Kezia worked collaboratively with industrial and academic partners to screen new compound libraries against S. mansoni. This project, funded by the Life Sciences National Research Network Wales, facilitated the screening and publication of several compounds synthesised by PhD students in IBERS and collaborations between IBERS and other academic institutions. Kezia is currently working on a Welsh Government funded Life Sciences Bridging Fund project to develop Roboworm for screening other parasitic worm species such as Fasciola hepatica and Haemonchus contortus. Both of these parasites are responsible for causing high economic loss in the farming industry (~£110 million per annum in the UK alone). These translational projects and collaborations have identified that there is a demand for a screening service against both veterinary and biomedically relevant parasites. It is hoped that continued development of the Roboworm platform will enable medicinal chemists to screen previously untested compounds against these parasites, which will help identify new antiparasitic compounds urgently needed for combating human and animal pathogens.
By Ifat Parveen