PhD Opportunities in Infectious Diseases

PhD Opportunities in Infectious Diseases at the School of Medicine, University of St Andrews

The Infection Group at the University of St Andrews have at least two vacancies for PhD students to work on innovative diagnostics and treatment monitoring tools for mycobacterial disease

Project descriptions:

Project 1 Developing a novel Molecular Bacterial Load Assay to improve clinical management of Non-Tuberculous Mycobacterial (NTM) infections

Non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) are an important but previously neglected cause of respiratory and systemic infection in children with cystic fibrosis and adults with chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and bronchiectasis.  At present diagnosis is very difficult and this is important because it is impossible to study how we might treat these infections better.   This project will address this problem directly by developing simple, rapid and quantitative measures of infection and treatment response for a range of NTMs for adults and children. The Infection Group at the University of St Andrews have already developed a Molecular Bacterial Load Assay, based on detection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) 16S ribosomal RNA (TB-MBLA). The Mtb-MBLA has been evaluated in clinical laboratories across Africa. This project will build on that work by developing MBLAs for NTM infections.

The successful student will gain experience of clinical bacteriological and molecular biological techniques, learning how to design new molecular diagnostic assays and test them in the laboratory and clinic. The lead supervisor for this project will be Dr Derek Sloan (Senior Clinical Lecturer and Consultant Infectious Disease Physician).

This is a 3 year PhD studentship funded by the Cunningham Trust, comprising of tuition fees (Home/EU) and stipend at current research council rates.


Project 2 PanACEA: Improving the treatment of tuberculosis

Tuberculosis remains an enormous problem for the majority of the world’s population and is now the most important single cause of death from infectious disease.  This PhD opportunity emerges from a long standing collaboration that has been established to improve the treatment of this deadly disease.     The infection group in St Andrews is one of the collaborators in the PanACEA consortium (Pan-African Consortium for the Evaluation of Anti-tuberculosis Agents) that includes 12 African centers as well as the Ludwigs Maximillian University of Munich, the Radboudt University Holland and University College London (http://panacea-tb.net).  This collaboration is funded by the European Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (http://edctp.org).  The St Andrews role will be to roll out the successful molecular bacterial load assay for M. tuberculosis (TB-MBLA) to the African partners.  This project will also include applying mathematical modelling techniques to analyse the data and working with mathematicians to develop new and better methods.  The successful student will also be engaged in developing our other innovative diagnostics for application to tuberculosis including and award-winning susceptibility method (SLIC-susceptibility).

The successful application will gain experience in evaluation of diagnostic methods in the field and will be expected to be able to travel to our African partner laboratories.  Additionally, they will gain experience of mathematical modelling and the validation of novel diagnostic techniques.  The position would suit an individual with a microbiological background with an interest in mathematics and/or physics as well as a desire to engage in research for health gain in Low and Middle income countries.

The lead supervisor for this project will be Professor Stephen H. Gillespie (http://synergy.st-andrews.ac.uk/gillespie/) who leads the Infection and Global Health Group in the School of Medicine.   It is a 3 year PhD studentship funded by the European and Developing Country Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP.org), comprising of tuition fees (Home/EU) and stipend at current research council rates.

All applications for these projects must have a first class honours or 2:1 Degree or equivalent in a relevant discipline.


The Infection Group

The infection group at the University of St Andrews is part of the School of Medicine and is under the leadership of Professor Stephen Gillespie.

Professor Gillespie is a clinician and Chief Investigator of the STAND study aiming to shorten tuberculosis therapy.  He is also one of the Chief Investigators of the PanACEA consortium, our group focuses on various aspects of tuberculosis drug development.  A major focus of the work is the development and evaluation of novel diagnostics, including the molecular bacterial load assay which enumerates the number of live bacteria rapidly.  He is also the co-inventor of the award winning technology to detect antibiotic resistance in only ten minutes (https://longitudeprize.org/blog-post/winners-discovery-awards).  In addition his group study molecular mechanisms of resistance, model systems to measure the fitness deficits found in resistant strains and investigate respiratory pathogens.

Dr Derek Sloan is an Infectious Diseases clinician scientist with a specialist interest in mycobacterial diseases. He is currently: an investigator in the PanACEA consortium of European and African clinical trial sites; clinical lead on an MRC/Newton Fund TB Pharmacology project in Hanoi, Vietnam; and has ongoing research activity, including PhD student supervision, in Malawi. His research focuses on clinical, microbiological and pharmacokinetic-pharmacodynamic modelling aspects of TB and NTM treatment response, with the goal of applying new scientific innovations to patients for direct clinical benefit.

Dr Janet Cox-Singh is a research scientist working on malaria. She was instrumental in the discovery of the entry of Plasmodium knowlesi, a malaria parasite adapted to old world macaques, into the human population of Southeast Asia. Research focuses on the use of P. knowlesi genetics, genomics, clinical samples, in vitro culture and genetic manipulation to determine how and why some patients develop high parasitaemia and severe disease and others do not.

Professor Matt Holden is a molecular microbiologist studying bioinformatics and bacterial genomes. His research group’s interests focus on investigating the diversity and evolution of bacterial pathogens. In particular, the survival and success of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and also the application of genomics in clinical settings to combat hospital-associated infections.

For further details on the project and Informal enquiries please contact pgmed@st-andrews.ac.uk with a CV and a brief covering letter outlining the background to your interest.

Please see http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/study/pg/ for the application procedure.