Supervisors and projects

There are over 20 different supervisors on the Hosts, Pathogens and Global Health PhD programme. 

Supervisors are mainly located in the Ashworth Laboratories in the Kings Buildings campus of the University of Edinburgh.  There are also supervisors based in the Roslin Institute at Easter Bush, and in the Centre for Inflammation Resarch and Division of Infection and Pathway Medicine at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. 

Read about the work they do, with links for more details, and possible projects you can work on in their labs below.

Professor Mark Blaxter - Institute of Evolutionary Biology

Mark Blaxter’s research programme focuses understanding biotic diversity, particularly the relationships between parasites and their hosts. One key theme is the tripartite relationship between filarial nematodes, their vertebrate and arthropod hosts, and the symbiotic bacteria they carry. Using genomic data he explores evolutionary relationships in this complex system, revealing both the underpinning biology and possible routes to treatment of disease. Other interests include the genomic diversity of nematodes, and the evolution of developmental systems. Mark is Director of Edinburgh Genomics Genome Science, the major genome facility in the University.

Possible project:  The evolutionary interactions between the immune systems of filarial nematodes and their Wolbachia endosymbionts

Dr Amy Buck - Institute for Immunology and Infection Research

Our research is aimed at understanding the molecular mechanisms by which pathogens adapt to, and manipulate, their hosts. This research enhances basic understanding of small RNA regulation and trafficking and illuminates host-pathogen interactions that could play a role in persistence and tolerance. We use both viral and helminth models to examine the mechanisms by which small RNAs are regulated to control cells, and how these can traffic outside of cells.  One application of our work is the development of small RNA based diagnostics for helminth infection, building on our findings related to nematode secreted RNAs in body fluids.

Possible projects:  (1) Release of small RNAs by Onchocerca ochengi in cattle: implications for the diagnosis of human river blindness, (2) Specificity determinants underpinning RNA export and recognition by viruses

Developing country collaborators:  Dr Vincent Tanya, Cameroon Academy of Sciences, Yaoundé, Cameroon.

Professor Ross Fitzgerald - Roslin Institute

I am currently Professor of Molecular Bacteriology at The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh. My research group employs an array of different experimental (wet-bench) and computational techniques to explore the evolution and pathogenesis of bacterial pathogens. Current projects include analysis of the ancient and recent evolution of the major human and animal pathogen Staphylococcus aureus, how it adapts to different hosts and how it evades the host immune response. Another major focus is understanding the biology underpinning outbreaks of infectious diseases of importance to human health including MRSA and Legionnaires’ disease. Projects can be either computational, or laboratory-based or a combination of both.  An important goal is the translation of fundamental discoveries into novel approaches to controlling infectious disease.

Possible projects:  (1) Molecular analysis of the host-specific adaptation of Staphylococcus aureus to the innate immune response; (2) With-host evolutionary dynamics of bacterial infections

Professor David Gray - Institute of Immunology and Infection Research

(1) We find unusually low V gene mutation rates in B cells in rheumatoid arthritis patients that do not respond to front-line therapy (eg. methotrexate). We wish to elucidate the underlying cellular mechanism, that may help stratify a group of patients for early transiton to biologic therapy.

(2) The reason why some plasma cells are long-lived while others have a short-lifespan is not known. We propose that it is related to the availability of microenvironmental niches in tissues such as the bone marrow or in sites of inflammation. The nature and longevity will be investigated in various situations, including autoimmune inflammation.

Possible projects: (1) Role of B cells in autoimmune disease – V gene repertoire analysis in rheumatoid arthritis using next generation sequencing; (2) Plasma cell homeostasis – control of lifespan

Professor Andrew Leigh-Brown - Institute of Evolutionary Biology

Our group studies how infectious diseases spread and are maintained in populations. We analyse viral sequence data, linking viral phylogenetics to epidemiological network models. Most of our work is on HIV, and we have projects based both here, using the 100,000 HIV sequences in the UK HIV Drug Resistance Database (, and in Africa where we collaborate particularly closely with the MRC/UVRI Uganda Research Unit on AIDS ( in Entebbe. The 3 postdocs in the group (2 affiliated students are based in Entebbe and Brighton) are funded by the NIH and by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through consortia including colleagues in the University of California San Diego, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, and UCL.

Possible project:  Analysing HIV transmission dynamics at local, national and global scales using viral sequence data. 

Developing country collaborators:  Prof Pontiano Kaleebu & Dr Deo Ssemwanga, MRC/UVRI Uganda Research Unit, Entebbe, Uganda; Profs Deenan Pillay and Tulio de Oliveira, Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa

Professor Tom Little - Institute of Evolutionary Biology

We aim to characterise how the diet of mothers influences the health of their offspring, in terms of susceptibility to infections and ageing.  We combine this with the study of the molecules, specifically the epigenetic factors, that mothers communicate to offspring to influence development.  To achieve all this, we need a study organism with a short lifespan, measurable fitness traits and a strong genomics toolkit. Thus we use two powerful laboratory systems: the nematode C. elegans, and the parthenogenetic crustacean Daphnia.   

Possible project: Health Across Generations: Maternal Effects on Ageing and Susceptibility to Parasites

Profesor Keith Matthews - Institute of Immunology and Infection Research

African trypanosomes are protozoan parasites that cause sleeping sickness. My lab is interested in how these parasites successfully progress through their life cycle to achieve disease transmission. Particularly, we study (i) how the parasites communicate with other trypanosomes in the blood of mammalian hosts to prepare for their uptake by tsetse flies, and (ii) how they detect their transmission to the tsetse fly and undergo cellular development to assist their survival. We use a combination of molecular cell biology, parasite biology, gene expression control and parasite genetic manipulation to understand the mechanistic basis of these life cycle transitions and their implications for parasite virulence and control.

Possible project:  How do trypanosomes talk, and listen, to other trypanosomes to achieve transmission?

Developing country collaborators:  Vincent Delespaux, Antwerp, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Zambia (depending on project)

Dr Liam Morrison - Roslin Institute

My research interests are the infection biology of protozoan parasites of livestock and humans, with a particular focus on African trypanosomes. I am interested in how genetic variation in parasites (e.g. between different strains or species) translates to variation in phenotype – we are trying to understand this with respect to drug resistance, antigenic variation and pathogenesis for the trypanosomes of relevance to livestock, Trypanosoma congolense, T. vivax and T. brucei. Additionally, we exploit analysis of the host immune response (mainly cattle but also mouse infection models) to understand the key host-parasite interactions that determine disease outcome. 

Possible project:  The in vivo dynamics of antigenic variation in African trypanosomes as measured by long read sequencing.

Developing country collaborators:  I work with GALVmed, in South Africa, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Malawi; Field scientists at the Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Research Institute in Tanzania studying trypanosomiasis and East Coast Fever in and around the Serengeti National Park. 

Dr Francisca Mutapi - Institute of Immunology and Infection Resarch

My group focuses on global health and tropical disease research working mainly on the neglected tropical disease schistosomiasis (bilharzia). The scientific research is focusing on developing better interventions based on enhancing the host’s immune innate and adaptive protective responses and developing improved diagnostics based on serological and molecular markers of infection/disease.  Our work integrates field studies in Africa of the host-parasite interaction focusing on parasite molecular biology and genetics, host immunity, genetics and microbiome structure and relating these to the epidemiology of the infection/disease.  Our results have been informing global schistosome and other helminth control and intervention programmes.   

Possible project:  Novel approaches to vaccine and adjuvant discovery for neglected tropical diseases.

Developing country collaborators:  Prof Takafira Mduluza, Department of Biochemistry and Prof Nicholas Midzi, Medical School, University of Zimbabwe; Dr Nadine Rujeni, College of Medicine and Health Sciences, Univesity of Rwanda; Dr Pauline Mwinzi, Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI)

Dr Dan Nussey - Institute of Evolutionary Biology

I am an evolutionary ecologist interested in understanding the causes and consequences of variation in immunity and ageing in wild and domestic ruminant populations. Most of my current work centres on the long-term study of wild Soay sheep on the remote St Kilda archipelago, but I am also closely involved in collaborations involving a range of other wild animal populations, as well as with animal health and veterinary researchers working on domestic ruminants. A focus of our recent work has been to test the power of biomarkers developed within the fields of epidemiology, biogerontology and veterinary immunology to explain variation in the ageing process in the wild, and to test their ability to predict health and productivity in ruminant livestock.

Possible project:  Leukocyte telomere length, health and fitness in wild and domestic ruminants

Dr Amy Pedersen - Institute of Evolutionary Biology

Our research aims to understand how parasites impact the health and fitness of their human and animal hosts, specifically by incorporating the complexities of natural systems to better develop effective intervention strategies. We integrate an array of methodologies (lab and field experiments on a wild rodent – parasite system, modelling, statistical methods, meta-analysis, etc.) to (i) evaluate interactions that occur between co-infecting parasites and the immune response to understand rates of disease spread and impacts on host health; and (ii) strive to elucidate the factors that drive host shifts and disease emergence in multi-host parasites. 

Possible project:  Are parasites always bad for their hosts? Investigating the unintended consequences of infection in a wild rodent system

Developing country collaborators:  Prof Eric Fevre, University of Liverpool, UK - based in Nairobi, Kenya (ILRI)

Professor Andrew Rambaut - Institute of Evolutionary Biology

My research focuses on the evolution and epidemiology of emerging human and animal pathogens, in particular, fast evolving RNA viruses that have been sampled through time. I have contributed to the research on most of the major virus epidemics that have emerged in recent times including Ebola virus in West Africa, SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, pandemic influenza in 2009, H7N9 avian influenza, hepatitis C virus and HIV. For these viruses in particular, my research has provided some of the crucial initial characterization of the epidemics, their molecular epidemiology and evolution, and the timing of their origins which, by the time the epidemic is detected, is often obscure.

Possible project:  The evolution, epidemiology and phylodynamics of Ebola virus during the 2014-2015 West African outbreak: linking viral genomics with epidemiology.

Professor Sarah Reece - Institute of Evolutionary Biology

Research in my lab is motivated by 2 key questions: “what makes a successful parasite” and “what are the evolutionary limits to their success”? Our research focuses on malaria parasites, which are an excellent model system to study host-parasite-vector interactions, and because malaria parasites are important (they and their relatives cause some of the most serious infectious diseases of humans, livestock, and wildlife). We use evolutionary theories and ecological principles to help us understand what parasites do during infections, and why they do things in these ways. We are evolutionary ecologists at heart but we also dabble in parasitology, chronobiology, behavioural biology, genetic modification, mathematical modelling, immunology, various ‘omics, and biophysics.

Possible projects:  (1) Coevolution of circadian rhythms in host-parasite-vector interactions; (2) Consequences of vector control for parasite evolution; (3) Evolution and ecology of parasite transmission strategies

Professor Alex Rowe - Institute of Immunology and Infection Research

A unique feature of human malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum is the ability of infected erythrocytes to bind to blood vessel walls leading to blockage of micro-vascular blood flow.   This can lead to life-threatening disease due to hypoxia, acidosis, inflammatory changes, organ dysfunction and death.  The aim of our research is to characterise the parasite adhesion molecules and human cell receptors and serum proteins that interact to cause adhesion of infected erythrocytes. We focus on two adhesion types that are associated with severe malaria in young African children – rosetting with uninfected erythrocytes and binding to human brain endothelial cells. We aim to identify that receptor-ligand interactions leading to adhesion, and develop interventions to block or reverse adhesion to prevent deaths from severe malaria. 

Possible projects:  (1) Identification of human serum proteins that contribute to P. falciparum infected erythrocyte binding to human brain endothelial cells; (2) Development of a PfEMP1 protein microarray to investigate sero-conversion to virulence-associated P. falciparum proteins in African children

Developing country collaborators:  Prof Tom Williams and Prof Kathryn Maitland, KEMRI-Welcome Research Laboratories, Kilifi, Kenya and Mbale Regional Hospital, Ugand; Dr Peter Olupot-Olupot, Mbale Regional Hospital, Uganda; Professor Ogobara Doumbo, University of Mali, Bamako, Mali

Dr Nick Savill - Institute of Evolutionary Biology

I am mathematical modeller. The unifying theme of my research is to understand and quantify processes that govern the dynamics of biological systems. My work is driven by the belief that integrating mathematical modelling and empirical research is an efficient way of testing competing hypotheses, generating biological insight and using and re-using data. This approach entails the development of large numbers of models encompassing the set competing hypotheses and their testing against empirical data using methods of Bayesian model-based inference. In this way, integrating and iterating theory and experiment creates strongly supported, biologically plausible models.

Possible project:  Dynamics of mitochondrial genome complexity in trypanosomes

Dr Achim Schnaufer - Institute of Immunology and Infection Research

Our lab studies the mitochondrial biology of trypanosomes, single cellular organisms that are important parasites of man and livestock. Our research is driven in equal measure by two goals: to understand the fascinating biology of these parasites and to help alleviate the suffering they cause. These organisms have taken biological principles that underpin all life on earth and twisted them into something bizarre and unique. This is particularly true for their mitochondrial biogenesis and the structure and expression of their mitochondrial genome, which we study and exploit for the development of new drugs.

Possible project:  Stage-specific regulation of the mitochondrial transcriptome of Trypanosome brucei

Professor Jürgen Schwarze - Centre for Inflammation Research

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection is the leading cause of infant bronchiolitis, resulting in intense small airway inflammation, lung function impairment, and severe disease requiring hospital admission, with 64 million cases and 160,000 deaths per year globally. In addition, RSV-bronchiolitis increases the risk of asthma development. There is no RSV-vaccine or specific treatment to reduce disease severity and prevent subsequent airway disease.  Using preclinical models and clinical studies, we investigate immune mechanisms of RSV-bronchiolitis and their role in development and exacerbation of allergic asthma, focusing on antigen presenting cells and epithelial cells at the innate/adaptive immune interface in the lung.

Possible project:  Antiviral innate immune responses in infant RSV bronchiolitis

Developing country collaborators:  Prof Alison Elliott, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, based in Entebbe, Uganda at MRC/Uganda Virus Research Institute.

Professor Sue Welburn - Division of Infection and Pathway Medicine

The Welburn research group focusses on human sleeping sickness and zoonotic trypanosomiasis and other neglected zoonoses in domestic wild and animal populations.  The lab's research concentrates on the design and use of molecular diagnostic tools for the study and management of the neglected zoonoses.  Research encompasses ‘grass-roots’ fieldwork in Africa to laboratory-based dissection of the problem at the gene level.  Activities include development and application of diagnostic tools and application of quantitative and qualitative methods for the estimation of disease burden of neglected zoonoses and strategies for disease control. Sue's experience ranges from the management of high-tech laboratory research to the running of applied field projects in developing countries.

Possible projects:  The scale of underreporting of Human African Trypanosomiais in Uganda. 

Developing country collaborators:  Professor Charles Waiswa, COCTU (Co-ordinating Office for Control of Trypanosomiasis Uganda) and Prof John David Kabasa, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (COVAB); Makerere University, PO Box 7062 Kampala, Uganda, East Africa

Professor Mark Woolhouse - Institute of Evolutionary Biology

My research interests concern the dynamics of infections of animals and humans at different scales, from the interaction of a parasite or virus with host cells through to global estimates of disease burden. This work involves the close integration of field studies, laboratory experiments and theoretical analyses and draws on collaborations between epidemiologists, mathematical biologists, geneticists, molecular biologists, immunologists and others. My group studies a variety of infectious disease systems ranging from prion diseases to viruses, bacteria, protozoa and helminths. The common theme is the development of a formal, quantitative understanding of the dynamics of parasites and pathogens within hosts and host populations with particular emphasis on understanding how novel pathogens, including antimicrobial resistant strains, emerge in human populations.

Possible projects:  Comparative biology of RNA viruses: what makes new viruses emerge?; Metagenomics of enteric viruses in Vietnam: the phylodynamics of host species jumps

Developing country collaborators: Dr Steve Baker, Oxford University Clinical Research Unit, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Prof. Eric Fevre, ILRI, Nairobi, Kenya

Professor Rose Zamoyska - Institute of Immunology and Infection Research

The primary interest of the Zamoyska lab is in T cell signalling (right) and how signals through the T cell receptor influence T cell homeostasis and the ability of T cells to be activated by antigens. Our research focuses on unraveling the roles and regulation of signaling molecules that are activated proximally to TCR engagement. Using genetic modification to introduce functional mutations or to manipulate expression of these molecules we aim to understand how they influence T cell activation, proliferation and differentiation into effector cells without leading to autoreactivity that can result in autoimmunity.

Possible projects:  Regulation of T cell activation

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