Award of new Ker Memorial Edinburgh Infectious Diseases PhD Studentship to Mariya Goncheva - many congratulations!

Dr Claude Buchanan Ker (pronouced "Car") and his son Dr Frank Leighton Ker were eminent physicians in Edinburgh in the early and middle part of the 20th century. 

Claude Buchanan Ker (1867-1925) spent his professional medical career in Edinburgh, working ceaselessly to improving the treatment of infectious diseases.  He is best remembered for his tireless efforts to build the City Fever Hospital which opened in Colinton in 1903, and of which he was medical superintendent for 21 years.  Frank Leighton Ker (1907-1966), began his medical career in Edinburgh and went on to carry out his main work at the East Birmingham Hopsital, where he became medical superintendent in 1950.

In memory of her father and grandfather, Miss Aileen Ker has very generously supported the establishment of the Ker Memorial Edinburgh Infectious Diseases PhD studentship, which we are delighted to announce has now been awarded to Mariya Goncheva.

Mariya completed her undergraduate degree in Infectious Diseases at the University of Edinburgh in May 2013.  In October 2013 she will begin her doctoral work with bacteriologist Professor Ross Fitzgerald and virologist Dr Bernadette Dutia at the Roslin Institute to study the role of Staphylococcus aureus superantigens in highly pathogenic influenza virus infections

L-R:  Roslin Institute; Ross Fitzgerald, Bernadette Dutia, transmission EM of influenza virus particles, faux cololoured scanning EM of S. aureus

Influenza viruses are a major cause of morbidity and mortality throughout the world.  Seasonal flu accounts for 20,000 deaths annually in the UK and pandemic flu could well result in millions of deaths world-wide.  Whilst influenza virus infection can itself result in serious respiratory disease, it is well established that the virus infection predisposes those infected to secondary infection with bacterial pathogens.  Evidence suggests that bacterial infections due to Streptococcus pneumonia, Haemophilus influenzae and Staphylococcus aureus were responsible for vast numbers of deaths during the 1918 influenza pandemic which lead to the death of an estimated 50million people.

Recent work at the Roslin Institute has shown that S. aureus superantigens contribute to the lethality of the life-threatening lung infection, necrotizing pneumonia.  Superantigens also cause hyperactivation of T-cells leading to release of inflammatory cytokines which may result in pyrexia, and toxic shock.  Furthermore, the hypercytokinemia which results from influenza virus infection is thought to contribute to lethality during human infection. 

Mariya will use a mouse model and existing isogenic deletion mutants of S. aureus, to investigate the role of staphylococcal superantigens on the co-morbidity resulting from co-infection with influenza virus.  Ultimately, superantigens could represent novel targets for the treatment of S. aureus- influenza co-infections.

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