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Stem Cells – Novel Targets for Parasite Control?

Stem Cells – Novel Targets for Parasite Control?

PhD project title and outline, including interdisciplinary dimension:
Stem Cells – Novel Targets for Parasite Control?

Fasciola hepatica (liver fluke) is a globally important flatworm parasite of animals and humans.  This pathogen is responsible for the disease fasciolosis that undermines livestock production systems globally and causes a World Health Organisation-designated neglected tropical disease in humans.  Disease control relies heavily on the use of drugs called flukicides, but as with bacterial resistance to antibiotics, liver fluke parasites are displaying resistance to all of the available chemotherapeutics.  Unfortunately, drug resistance threatens to undermine the sustainable control of liver fluke infections in both animals and humans such that novel control options are a pressing global need.   

We have recently observed stem cells, designated neoblasts, in parasites including liver fluke and have found that their proliferation drives the growth and development of these infectious organisms.  These cells also allow these parasites to survive for extended periods of time, often for the lifetime of the host animal/human.  The key role that these cells play in parasite virulence underscores their potential as novel targets for new anti-parasite drugs. 

This project aims to bring together the expertise of stem cell biologists working in human medicine and parasitologists working on parasites of animal livestock with a view to exploiting stem cell effectors as new targets for parasite control.  Work at Queen’s University Belfast would interrogate the biology of these parasite stem cells and work with the industrial partner (Boehringer Ingelheim) would have the potential to advance the discovery of new parasiticides that stop neoblast proliferation and selectively kill liver fluke parasites.  

The project would involve diverse training in distinct disciplinary areas including stem cell biology, parasitology and industrial drug discovery/development.  In this way, the project provides a unique training opportunity for a motivated student with interests in cell biology, parasites, veterinary medicine and the pharmaceutical industry.   

Primary supervisor: Professor Aaron Maule (Biological Sciences)
Secondary supervisor: Andriana Margariti (Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences)
External Partner/Organisation: Boehringer Ingelheim (BI)