Successful PhD Defence on High Through-put Screening of Schistosoma

Successful PhD student with bottle of wine in labOn 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

The wonderland of academic research @Aberystwyth University

There is nothing more exciting in the world of academic research than elucidating the answers for our investigations and further disseminate that particular knowledge. As researchers, we have all been participating to events, symposiums and international conferences and we often been given the opportunity to claim our 15 minutes of fame via the means of a presentation of our projects. There is no need to be shy, we all know that we enjoy it and deep inside feel famous; at the end of the day these events are our Oscars or International Music Awards and if we didn’t end up being nervous and have a panic attack half-way through the talk when realising the audience is bigger than 1000 people we take a step further to establish collaborations and contacts on a global scale.

All that being said, let’s have an imagination exercise and honestly, I hope you will experience the same level of frustration like I do sometimes. Given your results are absolutely breath-taking people will start to approach you to find out more and it usually goes something like that:

“Hi, really interesting work, well done. I am Professor Xavier (fictional) from Harvard School of Sciences.
(automatically you want to re-introduce yourself getting over the raised blood pressure and anxiety levels because you want to represent properly your university and supervisors)
Hello, my name is Adrian (acting surprised even if Prof Xavier has been your supreme idol and you know everything about him). I come from Aberystwyth University.
He will always bluntly reply: Abery….sssst….what?
You imagined he never heard about our lovely coastal rural town in Wales or about the university so you start giving a whole geographical description putting yourself back on his map by which point you notice that he is completely oblivious about the existence of this place as well as confused, thinking this university must be concentrated on agricultural research, etc. and how come you research that topic there?”

As the conversation progresses he is prouder and prouder of your work and you as an individual and the institution itself. Personally, I think the take-away message is to be proud of what you did, where you did it and how you revolutionised that particular field. Indeed, sometimes we might feel that we travelled to the end of the world and Aberystwyth is about 3.5 hours away from everywhere but when we got accepted to study here we definitely been offered the opportunity of a lifetime. Myself, I moved here when I started my degree and I just couldn’t say no to the opportunity of a masters or doctorate. And here we are 7 years later I am still here enjoying my work and stepping further every day towards what I consider my dream career. I met some lovely people here that are genuinely ready to help you, the competition is constructive and the environment is well tailored and facilitated for your research. I have been attending events ranging from non-formal to formal knowledge disseminating activities and I am always pleasantly surprised about the quality of our research in IBERS, thoroughness and approached topics. It is a friendly environment to perform our investigations and Institute wise we are definitely punching above our weight in delivering good quality and innovative research that is recognised world-wide.

Adrian Mironas

Social Media Scientific Collaborations?

My only foray into social media during my scientific career has been limited to one platform involving the use of 140 characters at a time. I use no other social media platforms. Since I joined in 2014 I have gradually engaged to greater extent. During this time I’ve found the small snippets of information displayed before my eyes to be a highly suitable source to binge on science news. Of course this has required me to be selective about the people or groups that I follow not to be swamped by general news from the masses. To this end, my news feed features all of those things I find exciting or interesting around science, with the occasional fun thing thrown in. On a daily basis I read new findings from the fields of biochemistry, protein science and, of course, parasitology. Admittedly, I confess the majority of my feeds are related to the later topic, with my screen regularly filled with amazing images and video snippets of parasitic worms and the cool things that they do.
As I have posted new research coming out of my research group around the biochemistry and molecular biology of parasitic worms it is highly addictive to see other social media users interacting with these instant updates of research. Whether it is an update on the role of a glutathione transferase (GST) or an insight into the fatty acid binding protein family I am continually excited to both promote our research and simultaneously interact with scientists across the world. One of the best aspects of this is that the scientists are from all stages of their careers from undergraduates through to established and highly respected Profs. A second confession of this blog is that a lot of scientists I follow are established collaborators and there may be the suggestion that we are self-promoting our work to one another. This aside, it is great bringing new science to the world (or at least the 400 followers I have) and seeing the progress of others – especially satisfying interacting with undergraduates succeeding with their first protein gels or postgraduates uploading SDS-PAGE ‘Gel-fies’.
However, I had never thought of social media as a platform to establish new connections and collaborations…until today. After being delighted with image after image of wriggling Parascaris parasites (worms of horses that are approximately 15-20 cm in length) I was compelled to contact the owner of these worms…a fellow wormer based across the pond in the USA. I have a particular passion to collect some Parascaris to provide one of my PhD students some samples to extract their GSTs and compare with related worms. This fellow worm guru was one of those people you follow in case something interesting pops up on their feed…and sure enough. It did! I have since established formal communications/collaborations and will be waiting on a shipment of worms to arrive in the post. What a nice gift for my PhD student! The wonders of establishing social media collaborations…

Post by Dr. Russ Morphew