James Pantefedwyn Foundation

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Rhiannon Heslop

I received an award from the James Pantyfedwen Foundation last year to assist with the cost of tuition for the second year of my MSc in Infectious Diseases and One Health, which was spent at the University of Edinburgh. The course focuses on infectious diseases, specifically in the ‘One Health’ context, which considers the interactions and exchanges between humans, animals and the environment. It extensively covers topics such as molecular biology and immunology of infectious agents, epidemiology and practical and analytical courses. An inter-disciplinary and international effort, such as the one afforded by the One Health paradigm, is paramount for coping with public health challenges such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

I have spent the majority of this year working intensively on an individual research project investigating the immune response to the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi; the causative agent of Chagas disease. Chagas disease is a neglected tropical disease that currently affects approximately 8 million people, primarily in South and Central America, however is emerging as a global health problem due to current human migration trends. Treatment for Chagas disease is limited to two drugs, and there is currently no vaccine available.

My project involved developing a novel and cost-effective screening tool to identify proteins on the surface of Trypanosoma cruzi that cause a protective antibody response in humans, therefore could potentially be used in a future Chagas disease vaccine. This has been a fantastic research opportunity for me which has enabled me to learn techniques such as nanopore sequencing, flow cytometry and bioinformatic analysis, as well to experience the fundamental biological research that occurs as a preliminary for vaccine development. In a wider sense, this MSc programme has given me a working knowledge of epidemiology and public health risk surveillance, along with a more specialised knowledge of host-pathogen interactions. It has also afforded me the invaluable opportunity to build international and inter-disciplinary professional relationships at this early stage in my career.

My aim in undertaking this programme was to gain expertise in the area of zoonotic infection biology, with the goal of one day becoming a principal investigator and running my own research group in the area of neglected tropical diseases. I am over the moon to say I will be continuing my career development by joining the Wellcome Trust Integrative Infection Biology PhD programme at the University of Glasgow in October.

Thank you so much to the James Pantyfedwen Foundation for your support to enable me to complete this MSc, it really has made the world of difference!