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Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholars Programme


Marina Papaiakovou


Veterinary Medicine, Christ's College

PhD thesis: Characterising helminth infections in host to improve animal health management and disease surveillance

Research interests:
1. molecular diagnostics development
2. disease transmission
3. zoonotic infections
4. microbiome signatures in disease

My PhD focuses on discovery and validation of biomarkers and infection signatures (DNA or metabolites) to facilitate early diagnosis of helminth infections in stool & profile disease framework based on microbiome changes, for a better understanding of host-parasite interactions. Worm infections are a major threat to food security and human and animal health worldwide and the lack of cheap, accurate and field-friendly reliable diagnostics has led to “mass deworming” approaches rather than individual testing and treatment, not only in the veterinary world but also amongst affected human populations. This has led to emergence of resistance to deworming drugs which is now widespread amongst gut helminth infections of ruminants and is of increasing concern in helminths infecting humans. Due to the complexity of their biology and lifecycles, there are few vaccines available for control of helminth pathogens. Therefore, the discovery of novel strategies for infection and disease control, food security and livestock health management are a high priority.

Who or what inspired you to pursue your research interests?

I was inspired to pursue my research interests by working on multiple deworming interventions in countries where neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) (i.e., worm infections) are endemic for nearly 8 years now.  I have participated and led in various projects as a diagnostics consultant or lead bench-scientist conducting and training qPCR-based diagnostics. Although recent interest towards human health is growing at pace, this remains detached from evaluating livestock or environment, which share and transmit the same parasites and diseases. In most developing countries people live at such proximity with livestock, that it’s inevitable for infections to recrudesce. It is not long ago when Dracunculus medinensis (Guinea worm) was considered eliminated until attention focused on domesticated animals with subsequent disease detection. Timelier than ever, is the need to shift focus towards disease dynamics and response in animals and environment.