Dr Nick Furnham
in Computational Biology of Infectious Disease
Nicholas joined the School as an independent investigator supported by a MRC Strategic Skill Fellowship in Methodology Research. Prior to this he was a staff scientist / post-doctoral research in the group of Prof. Dame Janet Thornton at the European Bioinformatics Institute (an outstation of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory). He completed his PhD under the supervision of Prof. Sir Tom Blundell in the Biochemistry Department at Cambridge University after a MSc. in Bioinformatics at Exeter University. His original undergraduate training in Biological Science, where he specialised in parasitology, was at King’s College London.
I currently contribute to a number of MSc. modules including Pathogen Genomics, Molecular Biology and Recombinant DNA Techniques, Antimicrobial Chemotherapy and Advanced Training in Molecular Biology.
In addition I supervise research project students and those interested in undertaking a project should contact me directly.
My research can be divided into gaining a fundamental understanding of the evolution of novel protein functions and the applications of the findings to important questions in infectious disease biology, in particular antimicrobial resistance and the development of novel therapeutics.
Using an interdisciplinary approach combining biology and chemistry with computer science I develop new algorithms and bioinformatics tools through large-scale integrative data processing. At the centre of my research is the development of a resource, FunTree (www.funtree.info), which brings together on a large-scale from thousands of genomes protein sequences, structures, taxonomy, phylogenetic analysis and comparisons of protein function.
The application of the resource and associated computational tool kit has led to a number of projects including understand genomic variance through GWAS studies in surveillance and tracking of antimicrobial resistance and pharmacogenomics combined with high-content screening for drug repurposing in neglected tropical diseases.
Another project has put allergy into its evolutionary context by establishing molecular similarities between known allergens and proteins in multicellular parasites. We verified these predictions experimentally to show new proteins in parasitic worms that cause allergy like immune responses, demonstrating that allergy is the price we pay for evolving immunity to these parasites. This work has received interest in the wider media with reports in Science, the Smithsonian (amongst others) and interviews on CBC Radio1 (Canada).