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2021-22 Fight for Sight PhD Studentship

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is pleased to invite applications for a three-year, full-time PhD studentship funded by Fight for Sight, starting on 20 September 2021.

Research Project

Project Title

Diversity and therapeutic susceptibility of Acanthamoeba causing keratitis in UK patients

Supervisors

Prof Colin Sutherland and Dr Debbie Nolder

Overall aim

To characterise phenotypic, genetic and genomic diversity in Acanthamoeba associated with keratitis in the UK.

Hypothesis

Different Acanthamoeba types identified by phenotypic, genetic or genomic criteria will differ in in vitro susceptibility to relevant anti-microbial agents.

Specific Objectives

  • To identify the range of genotypes present among UK Acanthamoeba, and link to phenotypic characters such as morphology and growth characteristics
  • To identify genomic determinants of the observed phenotypic and genotypic variation, and assess relevance to clinical features such as virulence or drug susceptibility
  • To establish drug susceptibility of clinical strains to compounds currently used to manage Acanthamoeba infections.

Research environment

The studentship will be based in the Faculty of Infectious and Tropical Diseases (ITD), which encompasses all of the laboratory-based research in the School as well as that on the clinical and epidemiological aspects of infectious and tropical diseases. It is headed by Faculty Dean Alison Grant, Professor of International Health. The range of disciplines represented in the faculty is very broad and inter-disciplinary research is a feature of much of our activity. The spectrum of diseases studied is wide and there are major research groups with a focus on malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, vaccine development and evaluation, and vector biology and disease control. The Faculty is organised into three large research departments comprising: Clinical Research, Disease Control, and Infection Biology. There is close interaction between scientists in different research teams. The Faculty has strong overseas links, which provide a basis for field studies and international collaborations in developed and developing countries. The teaching programme includes MSc courses, taught in-house and by distance learning, which are modular in structure, a variety of short-courses and an active doctoral programme (PhD and DrPH).

Department of Infection Biology

(Head: Professor Chris Drakeley)

The Department of Infection Biology brings together pathogen molecular biology and immunology and infection research across the School. The Department benefits from state-of-the-art facilities and strong collaborations, many of which are with partners in disease endemic countries.

We study the molecular biology and genetics of pathogens and interaction with their hosts, to improve understanding and control of infectious diseases and to understand the complex and dynamic ways by which pathogens modulate virulence and interact with the human host. Such a holistic approach will vastly increase the scope for the rationale of design of long-term intervention strategies to reduce the burden of infectious disease. In recent years such a mission has been significantly enhanced by the availability of whole genome sequences. The Department is involved in several pathogen genome projects, and post genome studies which facilitate understanding of complex parasites. The interpretation and exploitation of this basic information is the platform for numerous new avenues of research on pathogenesis, epidemiology and the evolution of virulence.

Our research in immunology and infection centres on analysis of the host response to infection at the molecular, cellular and population levels. The goals are to develop a greater understanding of basic mechanisms of immunological protection versus pathology, and to apply this knowledge to the development of immunological interventions and the identification of correlates of immune status. Our work involves application of state of the art cellular and molecular approaches to the in vitro analysis of pathogen-host cell interactions, to in vivo studies in models, and to the study of immunity at the population level in disease endemic areas. We also conduct translational research for the development and evaluation of diagnostic approaches to identify disease foci and monitor drug resistance.

This project will be pursued within the LSHTM Diagnostic Parasitology Laboratory (DPL), part of the Teaching and Diagnostic Unit (TDU) which also houses the Public Health England Malaria Reference Laboratory (MRL). The Laboratories are accredited to ISO 15189 and perform a wide range of tests ranging from morphological diagnosis by microscopy to molecular diagnosis. Both diagnostic laboratories provide both a reference and a primary diagnostic service to hospitals, private laboratories and clinics in the UK and overseas. Entomology services are offered via the LSHTM Medical Entomologist who provides expertise to the laboratory. The DPL offers a wide range of parasitological investigations and diagnostic procedures for enteric & blood parasites. We also offer a reference service for the detection of free-living amoebae in ophthalmic samples via culture and PCR. The DPL provides laboratory training for both clinical and technical staff, and involved in research and developmental work on new and improved diagnostic methods.

LSHTM doctoral students are mentored by their supervisor and an Advisory Committee consisting of at least two other academics, who can be from outside the School.  Students are expected to take part in the academic life of their department / Unit and can also be members of other Academic Centres - e.g. the AMR Centre and the Malaria Centre.  All research seminars and journal clubs are open to PhD students from across the School. Students are able to take up to four Master’s level Study Modules per academic year, subject to approval from their supervisor.

Support for research students’ future career development is covered through the supervision process, through the Transferable Skills Programme (in the School and the Bloomsbury Postgraduate Skills Network) and the School’s Careers Service.  Also important for career development are the opportunities for students to network and establish professional contacts.  The School also facilitates national and international conference attendance by students in the later stages which provides networking opportunities.

Funding

The award will cover:

  • tuition fees (at the LSHTM Home fee rate), and
  • a tax-free stipend of GBP 18,000.00 per year, pro-rated for periods and mode of study, and
  • some PhD research costs (including a contribution towards lab consumables and publication costs) of up to GBP 22,000.00 in total

for the duration of the award.

Eligibility Requirements

Applicants must meet minimum LSHTM entry requirements.

Applicants must:

  • hold, or expect to obtain before the start of the PhD, a relevant MSc in Parasitology or a related discipline awarded with good grades
  • provide evidence of the ability to work within a small, busy team and, when required, to perform laboratory investigations independently
  • demonstrate experience in developing and planning laboratory experiments  

It is desirable that applicants can also:

  • demonstrate knowledge of bioinformatics and/or genomic analysis
  • provide evidence of experience in either the cultivation of human pathogens under appropriate containment, or mammalian cell tissue culture with well-developed aseptic technique.

The award is only available to candidates who meet the eligibility requirements for the Home fee rate. Please see the LSHTM Fee Assessment Policy, in particular the “Criteria” section, for further details.

The successful applicant must accept Fight for Sight Terms & Conditions, and adhere to LSHTM Student Regulations.

How to Apply

Potential applicants are encouraged to contact the supervisors of the project for an informal discussion prior to applying.

Information about the MPhil/PhD programme structure at LSHTM, as well as application guidance and a link to the portal, can be found on the School’s Research Degrees and Doctoral College pages.

To apply for this studentship, applicants should submit an application for research degree study (in the Faculty of Infectious & Tropical Diseases) via the LSHTM application portal. ‘Fight for Sight PhD Studentship’ must be entered under the ‘Funding Section’ on the application. Students should submit an outline research proposal of not more than 3 pages of A4, based on the advertisement for this project.

Incomplete applications will not be considered for this studentship. This includes any applications missing supplementary documents (such as transcripts or references) at the deadline. (Applicants should note that automated reference requests will be sent out only after a complete application has been submitted and the application fee processed. Therefore, we would encourage applicants to submit their applications earlier than the deadline to ensure that their application is complete by the deadline. It is the applicant’s responsibility to ensure that the application is complete.)

Applications for this project will only be reviewed and processed after the deadline. All applications that are submitted before the deadline will be considered equally, regardless of submission date.  

Deadline

The deadline for applications is 23.59 (GMT) on Monday 31 May 2021.

The successful applicant will be notified of the outcome by Monday 14 June 2021.