Report from BSP Travel Award Recipient Sara Silva Pereira

A field report from Kenya by Liverpool PhD student Sara Silva Pereira, who was funded by a BSP International Training and Fieldwork Award.

Finding Trypanosoma congolense in Busia, Western Kenya

I was starting the second year of my PhD when my supervisor suggested a trip to Kenya to collect blood samples from cattle naturally infected with Trypanosoma congolense. I finally made it there in the beginning of my final year for a month-long stay.

Animal African Trypanosomiasis is an endemic disease in 37 sub-Saharan countries that has a significant negative effect on both animal health and livestock productivity. It is caused by trypanosome blood parasites (Trypanosoma spp.), transmitted by the bite of tsetse flies (Glossina spp.), and can result in substantial anaemia, weight loss and ultimately death of the infected animal. Efforts to develop effective prophylaxis have been undermined by the mechanism of antigenic variation, employed by the parasite for immune evasion. Antigenic variation is characterised by the sequential substitution of cell surface antigens, compromising the effectivity of an antibody-based response and thus leading to chronic infection and transmission likelihood.

In this project, I was lucky enough to work within the DVS-ILRI laboratory in Busia, which is part of a collaboration between the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the University of Liverpool through Professor Eric Fèvre. There, the veterinary surgeon Dr Maseno Cléophas was ready to coordinate and assist the project.

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Sara making blood smears from an infected cow

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The DVS/ILRI lab in Busia

We screened 900 cows in all sub-counties for trypanosomiasis by microscopic analysis of thin blood smears and high centrifugation technique. We collected blood from each positive animal every week, for 4 weeks, and purified the parasites from the blood using a DEAE cellulose column. From the recovered parasites, we extracted nucleic acids and protein, which will be used to identify and quantify transiently-expressed antigen genes and to identify the active cell surface antigen, in an attempt to better understand the relationship between genetics and antigenic switching in natural infections. At the end of the project, the animals involved were treated for trypanosomiasis and all animals screened were dewormed and given multivitamin supplements.

The most difficult part of the project was logistics. Simple things like getting a car to work in the morning, getting the farmers to pick up the phone so we could find them and the animals, having electricity to run the centrifuge, and of course, the dirt roads often flooded by overnight rains. On the bright side, I don’t think I’ll get car sick in Europe anymore! As the locals were constantly reminding me, “This is the real Kenya” and, with all its peculiarities, it is a magnificent country indeed.

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It wasn’t all work. On the second weekend, I did manage to escape to a beautiful cottage house in Kericho, where I met people from ILRI working in Nairobi. I got to ride a horse, see a waterfall and walk through sugar cane plantations praying silently not to find snakes. The remaining weekends were spent catching up on my book waiting list and, of course, sunbathing in the nearby hotel swimming pool with the local children.

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Through the International Training and Fieldwork Award, the BSP has allowed me to personally witness the difficulties and rewards of field work in remote areas, including all the logistics; to have a better understanding on how farming works in Kenya; and to further develop people and laboratory skills that would not be possible in the comfort of our highly-equipped institute in Liverpool. More importantly, the BSP and the BBSRC, who funded the rest of the project, have allowed the collection of precious materials that will be used to understand antigen-switching patterns in natural infections as well as to show an application for a variant antigen profiling methodology we have developed in the first years of my PhD. For all of this, I am deeply grateful.

-Sara Silva Pereira, Post-graduate student, Department of Infection Biology, Institute of Infection and Global Health, University of Liverpool

Remember to get your nominations in for the 2017 BSP Wright Medal

Deadline for nominations this year: 10th February 2017.

Every year BSP members nominate a parasitologist within the society to recognise their outstanding contribution to the discipline of parasitology. The recipient is a scientist in mid-career who, it is considered, will confirm their already outstanding achievements to become a truly distinguished future leader of their field. This sentiment is in keeping with the encouragement of younger parasitologists by Chris Wright, Director of the Experimental Taxonomy Unit at the Natural History Museum, London, UK and the Society's President at the time of his untimely death in 1983, and in whose memory a commemorative medal was instigated.

For further information and specific details on how to nominate please see here.

We look forward to receiving your nominations soon!

Report from BSP Travel Award Recipient Eve Hanks

A field report from Leiden by Glasgow PhD student Eve Hanks, who was funded by a BSP International Training and Fieldwork Award.

Going Dutch

The first year of my PhD has been focused on understanding the protective immunity conferred to sheep when vaccinated with Barbervax ® against the parasitic nematode Haemonchus contortus. Working at the University of Glasgow and in conjunction with Moredun Research Institute, it had become clear that the majority of antibodies generated following vaccination were anti-glycan antibodies. This led to my trip to Leiden to work at the Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC) with Dr C.H. Hokke and his team to attempt to categorise the glycan content of Barbervax  and determine the antigenicity of each component when incubated with sheep sera.

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Leiden University Medical Centre

I found myself in a truly international office known as the aquarium. PhD students from several countries with similar interests were a great source of knowledge for me and new friendships were made. Most of the current glycan work has a human focus, I was the only veterinary researcher.

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I was very fortunate to be able to make use of the new glycan array technologies developed at LUMC. This is the first time that the glycan content of the Barbervax has been analysed to this extent. Having the ability to extract glycans from the native vaccination preparation and probe these arrays with the sera from a wide range of vaccinated sheep from pen and field trials was really valuable. This allowed us to compare anti-glycan antibodies across a cross section of sheep at a set time point and also longitudinally comparing lambs, yearlings and ewes as they moved through the trials. These data will hopefully aid in the understanding of the effectiveness of Barbervax in the face of failure of recombinant protein vaccine attempts. Although further analysis is required, it has been a rewarding trip which has generated novel data specific to H. contortus and the Barbervax vaccination, and will form part of my thesis.

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Having never visited The Netherlands before I made full use of my free time with trips to Amsterdam and The Hague. I travelled to Cologne to run in the half marathon race and visited Ghent and Antwerp also. During my time at LUMC I was lucky enough to be living by the sea and with unseasonable warm weather this was a perfect location.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the BSP for the travel award and to LUMC and all the staff and students who made this experience so rewarding and memorable.

Eve Hanks 16/10/16

BSP Travel Award Recipient Melanie Clerc

A field report from Germany by Edinburgh PhD student Melanie Clerc, who was funded by a BSP International Training and Fieldwork Award.

In my PhD, I am investigating the mechanisms that underlie interactions among co-infecting parasite species. To do so, I am using wild wood mice and their diverse parasite community to understand which processes are acting to create within-host interactions under natural conditions. Focussing on a previously-identified negative interaction between the most prevalent nematode Heligmosomoides polygyrus and the coccidian parasite Eimeria hungaryensis in UK wood mice, I am primarily asking questions about the role of the immune response in mediating this interaction, the influence of various host characteristics and how both variation in immune response and host demographics create the patterns of co-infection we observe in the wild.

Continue reading “BSP Travel Award Recipient Melanie Clerc”

BSP Travel Award recipient Tapan Bhattacharyya

A field report from Brazil, funded by a BSP International Training and Fieldwork Award

Tracking Trypanosomes in Brazil

I was fortunate enough to be the recipient of a BSP International Training and Fieldwork Award, which enabled me to travel to Brazil recently to perform further studies on the serology of Trypanosoma cruzi in domestic and silvatic animals to identify natural reservoirs of this parasite.

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The protozoan T. cruzi is the agent of Chagas disease, which remains a major public health issue in the endemic regions of Latin America. T. cruzi is transmitted through the faeces of the domicile-infesting triatomine bug vector, but other routes, including congenital transmission, contaminated blood or organ donation, and oral infection by contaminated foodstuffs, also exist. Approximately 8 million people are currently infected, with over 10,000 deaths per annum. The species T. cruzi is currently divided into 6 genetic lineages; the link between infecting lineage(s) and clinical outcome – death or debilitation due to cardiac and/or gastrointestinal pathologies in approximately one third of life-long chronic infections – is poorly understood. It is often not possible to obtain isolates from which to perform direct genotyping to identify lineage. The more indirect approach of lineage-specific serology has recently been developed in our research group at LSHTM, and had hither-to only been applied to samples from chagasic patients. Thus the BSP International Training and Fieldwork Award enabled me to travel to Brazil and extend this serological technique for the first time to samples from domestic and silvatic animals known or suspected to be infected by T. cruzi, originating from various parts of that country. Mammal reservoirs of T. cruzi lineages are of great importance to the control of Chagas disease as triatomine bugs feeding on them may also infest houses, and these bugs can be inadvertently consumed in beverages prepared in open conditions. In addition, the award was to allow me to have my first experience of sample collection in the field overseas, away from a lab situation.

I spent nearly 3 weeks in Brazil, taking with me from the UK the crucial reagents and equipment to perform the work, a ‘lab-in-a-suitcase’ packed with plasticware, pipettes, and a cold box. Following the overnight flight from Heathrow, I made a brief visit to Goiânia in central Brazil to see a collaborating research group working on Chagasic patient samples. Then, onwards to the city of Rio de Janeiro for the bulk of my trip. The work took place at A Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (FIOCruz), a biomedical research institute located in the Manguinhos region in the north of the city.

The host lab has a great archive of sera collected from many classes of mammals collected in various biomes in Brazil, and I was able to test the T. cruzi lineage-specific serology for the first time on such samples. The technique uses lineage-specific synthetic peptides derived in our lab at LSHTM in an ELISA format. Fortunately during my time there I was able to achieve some preliminary, promising results, and also transfer the technology to the host lab, encouraging further expansion of this technique to a broader range of samples.

In addition to the labwork, I visited a campus of FIOCruz located in the suburb of Jacarepaguá about an hour’s drive away from Manguinhos, situated in the Mata Atlântica (Atlantic forest), where fieldwork activities take place. In this area are found a number of suspected natural mammalian reservoirs of T. cruzi, and so these animals are sampled for evidence of infection by this and other pathogens. Tomohawk and Sherman traps are baited with foodstuffs to attract animals and are placed on the forest floor, and as shown in the picture I was able to participate in this activity. The location of the traps is indicated by red ribbons tied to nearby trees (see photo). There was quite dense leaf litter on the forest floor, so I was advised to watch out for snakes hidden in the undergrowth! This, plus the constant risk of tripping over vines and branches and being out in the tropical sun, gave a real sense of being out in the field and away from the lab environment.  It also gave me a deeper understanding of the amount of effort needed to obtain the samples and thus a greater commitment to the success of the work done with them. The research station itself is located next to a colony originally built to provide humane treatment for people with certain disorders, and some buildings such as the church remain (see photo). This was also a very interesting insight into past care regimes in this part of Brazil, which I had not expected to find.

 

Red ribbons indicating location of traps
Red ribbons indicating location of traps
Church in patient colony
Church in patient colony

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience in Brazil, a county preparing to host the World Cup and Olympic Games soon. Rio de Janeiro is known as ‘a cidade maravilhosa’, or the marvellous city, for good reason, although the prevalence and extent of the favelas also leaves its impression. Another important part of the visit was to experience some of the daily life of thecariocas (Rio’s inhabitants), including travelling on the city bus network and the metro system, as well as trying to speak Portuguese. I had studied some of the language beforehand, and after a hesitant first few days, gradually was able to understand and speak the language better, which was appreciated by my Brazilian colleagues who were very patient of my spontaneous grammar rules and vocabulary! After a while I realised that the word ‘Hee-oo’ which I had been hearing is in fact the Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation of ‘Rio’.

I am extremely grateful to the BSP for the International Training and Fieldwork Award, as it has enabled me to gain my first experience of sample collection in the field, and in terms of the lab research, has led to promising, preliminary, data, which we plan to extend further.

Blog by Tapan Bhattacharyya, LSTMH

Several BSP student members have recently benefitted from the BSP International Training and Fieldwork awards. For further details please see the link.

BSP Travel Award recipient Rebecca Jones

A field report from Finland, funded by a BSP International Training and Fieldwork Award

Fieldwork in Finland

When my supervisor suggested going to Finland during the summer of my first year of my PhD, I jumped at the chance. That was until I researched what the weather would be like during my stay (from November to March). I knew it would be cold (which I’m not particularly partial to anyway!) but temperatures could drop to below -30°C with about 3 hours of daylight at times. So with suggestions of purchasing a SAD light box whilst out there, I made my way to the University of Jyvaskyla, Finland to carry out some work with Professor Johanna Mappes.

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My trip to Finland was split into two separate topics, one continuing on from my undergraduate project looking at toxicity cheats in a prey population and predator responses to them. The second and larger aspect of the project concerned my PhD work, looking at the nematode Heterorhabditis bacteriophora. As I was using avian predators, in the form of Great Tits (Parus major), I was based at the University of Jyvaskyla’s field research station a further 60km North of Jyvaskyla, called Konnevesi Research Station (see map).

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Location of the Konnevesi Research Station with respect to the main campus at Jyvaskyla. (Google maps).View of the lake from the animal house where the birds were housed.

As you can see from the map the area of Finland I was working in (as well as quite a lot of Finland actually) had many lakes which made for a very picturesque field centre. When I first arrived for my first lot of field work in November everything was under snow already and the temperatures would dip down to -10°C. However, Finnish accommodation always contains a double layer of double glazing which meant that if you could stay indoors it was very warm! During my first stay I learnt how to trap the birds for use in my experiments using a specially constructed trap which ensured the trapper could remain inside whilst trapping birds, only having to leave the warmth to collect trapped birds (see photo).

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 The trapping cage used to trap Great Tits and Blue Tits (for other experiments). The birds’ favourite food, peanuts, was placed in the trap and birds readily flew in to get them. The string (on the left hand side) was then attached to a door which could be closed from inside the office.

My first experiment whilst in Konnevesi, a follow-up from my undergraduate project (Jones et al., 2013), examined the response of Great Tits to prey populations that were aggregated or spatial with different frequency of toxic cheats in the population. This involved some DIY to create spatial prey populations and also included feeding bitrex to some birds. Although most were happy with the experiments some did get a bit grumpy!

My second experiment was carried out after a (relatively) warm break over Christmas in the UK. This work examined my study species, the obligate insect parasite Heterorhabdtis bacteriophora and its symbiotic bacterium Photorhabdus luminescens. Upon infection, the insect larva host undergoes a colour change to red and also produces a foul-smelling odour. This colour change is thought to act as a predator deterrent to enhance survival of the nematode, although scent has not yet been examined. My aim in Finland was to use a GM strain of this nematode which did not produce a red colouration so the effect of the scent alone could be examined. The GM strain however still had some pigmentation so the TT01 strain (a non-GM strain from naturally occurring populations) was utilised. Experiments were carried out examining the effect of scent, colour, and colour and scent by observing the Great Tits responses ie. how many infected or uninfected waxworms they would consume (see photos). The experiments went very well and we found that Great Tits were able to detect the scent of infected prey items and respond to it.

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Heating the sauna;  Relaxing in the fire hut with a Masters student; Sini and preparing salmon on the stove.

It was not all work and no play in Finland and in my spare time I was able to enjoy walks in the forest, saunas, ice-hole swimming (which was extremely cold), bird-ringing and cooking food in the fire hut!

I had an amazing time in Finland, making many new friends and contacts and would especially like to thank Prof. Johanna Mappes for advice and supervising me whilst in Finland and Helina Nisu who took excellent care of the birds during my experiment. I’d also like to thank the BSP for the International Training and Fieldwork award which helped make my trip to Finland possible.

Rebecca Jones, Postgraduate student, Department of Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour, Institute of Integrative Biology, University of Liverpool. @RSJonesScience

Jones, R. S., Davies, S. C. & Speed, M. P. (2013). Defence cheats can degrade protection of chemically defended prey. Ethology 119, 52-57.

Several BSP student members have recently benefitted from the BSP International Training and Fieldwork awards. For further details please see this link.

BSP Travel Award recipient Ciaran McCoy

A field report from Iowa, funded by a BSP International Training and Fieldwork Award

Field of Dreams

Is this heaven?... No, it's Iowa”

The primary focus of my PhD is the development of a reverse genetic platform within the model animal parasitic nematode, Ascaris suum.  Due to the emergence of drug resistance, the future prevention and treatment of animal parasitic nematode infections depend upon the development of novel control options.  RNA interference (RNAi) can facilitate the elucidation of gene function and validation of novel drug targets.

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Induction of RNAi responses in animal parasitic nematodes has proven difficult; however in adult Ascaris suum all of the genes targeted to date appear to be susceptible to RNAi.  Despite this we have not observed any crude phenotypes (motility defects or death) following statistically significant, systematic and reproducible gene knockdown, suggesting that we may have to employ a more sensitive post-RNAi assay to detect the phenotypic effects of gene knockdown.

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Ciaran with collaborators

I have been very fortunate to visit the labs of Prof. Richard Martin and Dr. Alan Robertson at Iowa State University (ISU) in the pursuit of an elusive post-RNAi phenotype.  The work completed at ISU was based largely on the employment of a highly sensitive electrophysiology-based post-RNAi assay.  As we do not have access to this specialised equipment here in Belfast, my trip to Iowa has made it possible for us to accurately quantify the responsiveness of individual nematode muscle cells to a range of nicotinic agonists following the knockdown of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunits.  During the three months that I spent I Iowa I also had the opportunity to dabble in a little tissue specific expression analysis and assess antihelmintic responses in Xenopus oocytes expressing nematode nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunits.  The data associated with this study are currently being analysed and we hope to publish the results in the near future. (Fingers crossed).

Extracurricular activities included occasional in pub scientific debates, Independence Day celebrations and a (self-funded) trip to New York and Boston prior to my return home.  Despite the difficulties associated with a flooded kitchen, mangled worms, tornado warnings and vending-machine-derived dinners I feel that the trip was very productive and highly enjoyable.

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During my stay in Iowa I have learnt a range of new techniques, produced a substantial electrophysiology-based dataset, which will form the basis of a PhD thesis chapter, and made several new friends and potential future collaborators.  I would like to thanks the British Society of Parasitology for facilitating my visit to ISU and my host lab for their hospitality and good company.

Blog post by Ciaran McCoy, Queen’s University Belfast

Several BSP student members have recently benefitted from the BSP International Training and Fieldwork awards. For further details please see the linkhttp://bsp.uk.net/awards-grants/international-training-and-fieldwork-award/

BSP travel award Sabrina Lamour

Read Sabina Lamour's field report from Côte d’Ivoire, funded by a BSP International Training and Fieldwork Award

My Field Trip in Côte d’Ivoire (October 2013)

“J’ai trouvé l’amour!” (I have found love!)

Never before has my surname (Lamour) been used in so many puns as in my month-long trip to Côte d’Ivoire: from catering staff to professors, everyone seemed to enjoy shouting my name whenever I entered a room (“l’amour” literally means “the love” in French). Jokes aside though, I have thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the Ivory Coast – so different to my life in London…

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Two years into my PhD in Clinical Medicine at Imperial College London, my work so far has been based on laboratory research on experimental models of tropical parasitic infections, accompanied by heavy amounts of statistical analyses. I often joke that the most “exotic” travels for my PhD so far have been my brief trips to Cardiff where I was working on mouse poop! Whilst my project work has been highly rewarding, I had yet to experience the clinical side of the disease areas I work in and longed for the chance to engage and help patients face-to-face. As luck would have it, an excellent opportunity presented itself through long-standing collaborators of my supervisor at the “Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute” (Swiss TPH), to visit the “Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques en Côte d’Ivoire” (CSRS) and help out in nearby hospitals. So off I went!

Following minor hiccups on the first few days of my stay (including multiple flight delays and “digestive adjustments” to the local food), I spent the first week participating at the “EcoHealth Africa 2013 Conference” in Grand Bassam, organised by CSRS. I was intrigued and interested at the different perspectives and approaches presented by African researchers. Research here appeared to be strongly driven by local public’s concerns, often directly engaging with communities, health workers and sanitation engineers, during project planning and implementation of interventions. There was a strong focus on working collectively across different disciplines in order to ultimately ameliorate human health as well as that of animals and the environment – highlighted in their conference declaration (which I helped translate into English), available online at : http://www.csrs.ch/actualites.php?id=113

Furthermore, there was a great interest in using endogenous public knowledge, especially with regards to medical plants and herbs, in the quest to find alternative treatments for infectious diseases of people as well as of livestock.

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Professor Adou Yao and I, announcing the Declaration of the EcoHealth Conference Africa 2013,
Grand Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire

After briefly visiting the research facilities at the CSRS in Adipo Doume (outside of Abidjan city), I spent the majority of my stay working at the Methodist Hospital of Dabou town, around 40 minutes drive west from the CSRS. Following introductory visits to the different departments, I assisted staff at the clinical laboratory where I performed multiple diagnostic tests, including microscopic examination of stool samples for gastro-intestinal parasitic cysts, eggs and worm detection, various biochemical analyses (e.g. measuring fasting glucose levels in serum) and performing immunological tests, e.g. testing for presence of anti-Salmonella typhi antibodies for typhoid fever diagnosis. Although the laboratory had malaria rapid diagnostic test strips available, the workers preferred relying on blood smear tests (which I spent a lot of my time doing whilst working there, shown in photo) as they thought this method was more reliable, was able to give a measure of parasitic burden (as opposed to simply presence/absence of Plasmodia infection), and was much cheaper (especially as they could re-use glass slides). I also performed HIV tests, full blood counts and tested patient blood types (as well as my own which I never knew until then!). This was the first time that I was able to experience the day-to-day activity of what goes on in a hospital lab that deals with patients having tropical diseases – notably HIV, malaria, TB, and typhoid which represented the large bulk of infectious diseases – that I’ve learnt much about at university but never got to see face-to-face: it was a highly rewarding experience.

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Dabou Clinical Lab: Staining blood smear slides with Giemsa dye for microscopic detection of Plasmodia

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Dabou Clinical Lab: Determining my own blood type via blood antibody-antigen agglutination tests

In addition to working in a town hospital, I was able to visit and assist in a more rural setting, in the clinical lab of Taabo General Hospital (about 2 hours drive further inland from Abidjan city). Here I was immediately struck by the much more limited resources of both the hospital and the local community, which consisted of the small town of Taabo surrounded by neighbouring villages. Poverty and illiteracy were serious issues that limited many of the locals to access health care services. The clinical tests available at Taabo laboratory were similar to that of Dabou hopsital, though on a much smaller scale. Furthermore, the few patients that arrived at the hospital often presented with serious inflictions (e.g. systemic organ problems linked to malnourishment) which to me appeared completely novel but unfortunately for the hospital staff, were in fact quite common. Taabo was definitely much more of an eye-opener to the many problems faced by rural communities in low-income countries such as Côte d’Ivoire.

Upon my return, I have since written a short observational report on clinical diagnostics in Côte d’Ivoire, using both Dabou and Taabo hospitals as case studies. This is now publicly available on my Imperial College Blog site at:http://wwwf.imperial.ac.uk/blog/sabrinalamour/2013/11/11/clinical-diagnostics-report/

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Me and clinical staff at Taabo Hospital Clinical Laboratory

When I wasn’t cooped up working in the labs or at the conference I did my best to explore the area, e.g. travelling in crammed mini-buses with locals, shopping at the vibrant markets, eating street-food (whilst trying my best to turn a blind-eye to some of the sanitary conditions of the food preparation), visiting some of the nearby beaches on the weekends (absolutely beautiful!), and conversing with fellow students about life in Ivory Coast, under the trees with random lizards and goats passing by…

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Local market in Adiopo Doume, near the CSRS

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Abidjan City (Plateau district) and Slums just outside Abidjan

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Fellow workers at Dabou hospital lab teaching me how to carry a bucket of water on my head

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Local mini-bus (with goats on the roof!)

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Weekend trip to beautiful Assinie Mafia Beach and Scenery around Taabo river dam

I would take this opportunity to give great thanks to both the British Society for Parasitology (BSP) and the Medical Research Council (MRC) for sponsoring this field trip where I have learnt so much – both professionally and personally. Thank you for all your support, I’m so grateful for being given such an opportunity to have a truly valuable experience. I would do it again and recommend anyone else interested to visit Africa to go see the Ivory Coast.

- Sabrina

 

Sabrina Lamour

Postgraduate student, Section of Computational and Systems Medicine, Department of Surgery & Cancer, Imperial College London

http://www.imperial.ac.uk/people/sabrina.lamour10

 

More than 9 BSP student members have recently benefitted from the BSP International Training and Fieldwork awards. For further details please see the link