News

Petition to the UK government: Revoke cuts to global health research

We urge the UK government to reconsider the decision to significantly reduce the Official Development Assistance (ODA) funds for global health research and development. The decision to suspend the commitment to invest 0.7 per cent of GNI on ODA must be subject to full Parliamentary scrutiny.

The cuts will be highly damaging to parasitology research across the globe and will severely impact on the many communities who would benefit from this research.

To sign the petitition to the UK government, please follow this link:

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/580046

[Please note that unfortunately this petition is only open to British citizens and UK residents to sign]

 

 

Obituary – Ron Smithers

Ron Smithers, parasitologist.

Born July 18th, 1926, died February 22nd, 2021, aged 94.

Ron Smithers (S.R. Smithers as he appeared on his more than 100 scientific publications) dedicated his professional life to furthering the understanding of the host-parasite relationship of human schistosomes. He served as the Head of Division of Parasitology at the UK´s premier research organization, the former National Institute for Medical Research in Mill Hill between 1971 to his retirement in 1987.

Ron was born in Islington in 1926 before moving with his parents to Twickenham where he spent the whole of his childhood, including the years of the blitz! He attended Thames Valley Grammar where he excelled in all sports and met his wife to be Eileen Smith who was also a talented sportswoman. He undertook his National Service in the RAF, where he was a Physical Training Instructor before going on to Bristol University to read Zoology and play hockey for the University 1st team. He graduated with 1st Class Honours in 1952, the same year he married Eileen.

Ron Smithers embarked on his lifelong career in parasitology working at the London Zoo where he discovered two new parasite species in resident animals as described in his first two publications, an extraordinary start to what turned out to be a brilliant research career. He then undertook three years of field work in The Gambia mapping the ecology of human schistosomiasis caused by Schistosoma mansoni and haematobium, the parasites that were to be the focus of the rest of his research career. In 1958 he was awarded his Ph.D. and joined the NIMR working under Frank Hawking, father of the renowned astrophysicist Sir Stephen Hawking, where he remained for the rest of his career.

Ron´s research career is notable for its focus, logical progression and constant incorporation of novel technical approaches to understanding the basis of the immunological relationship of Schistosoma mansoni with its definitive host, an area in which he was international renowned. His initial publications pioneered techniques for the laboratory maintenance of the parasite life cycle, a process for which he took personal responsibility in the laboratory until his retirement. He quickly began to explore central immunological aspects of schistosome infection, establishing the existence of acquired protective immunity, the role of different life cycle stages in stimulating this immunity and the protective effect of irradiated cercariae published in Nature in 1962.

After receiving his D.Sc. in 1969, Ron Smithers published the first of several papers in 1975 that reported the fundamentally important and previously unreported phenomenon of host antigen acquisition by the maturing schistosome as a mechanism of avoiding recognition by the host immune response, a remarkable discovery. In parallel he embarked on a detailed dissection of effector mechanisms of protective immunity focusing on the role of antibodies and culminating in the generation of some of the first monoclonal antibodies  raised against schistosomes, the detailed molecular characterization of the antigens they recognized on the immature parasite surface and eventually the cloning of the genes that encode them in the 1980s. Much of his latter research effort was spent demonstrating the ability of antigens shared between the tegument of the adult worm and the invading schistosomula to serve as the basis of an anti-schistosome vaccine, a pivotal concept that has recently culminated in clinical trials.

Smithers´ research strategy was to maintain a superb parasite life cycle, provide a friendly and relaxed research environment and attract talented younger scientists specialized in disparate research areas of immunology, biochemistry and molecular biology to join his quest to understand how the remarkable blood dwelling schistosome can simultaneously stimulate and avoid protective immunity. His bibliography is noteworthy for its early inclusion of a series of technical advances in the study of the parasite demonstrating the breath of his thinking, flexibility and multidisciplinary approach. Ron was a modest and understated man who exhibited a quiet warmth to his colleagues and who was both accepting and non-judgemental. He was exemplary in his willingness to give his young colleagues full credit for the work in his laboratory and helped launch the careers of a large number of parasitologists still active in many parts of the world.

In addition to his lifelong dedication to science, Ron was also a devoted family man. He took great pleasure  in watching sport particularly Arsenal FC, where he held a season ticket well into his mid-80s, Middlesex CC and in later years Saracens Rugby – for whom his eldest son Tim played in the 70s and 80s. Both Tim and his younger brother Nick have successful careers in the UK health care industry. Eileen, a primary school teacher and Ron’s marital partner of 69 years predeceased him by 6 months. Ron spent a long and fulfilling retirement surrounded by family and friends, occupying his time with numerous hobbies and interests. He is survived by his sons, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

The BSP Council send their condolences to the family and friends of Ron at this difficult time.

BSP donation to support parasitology in Venezuela

Several Venezuelan parasitologists, members of the VeConVen research network, recently received a donation of £1,000 for laboratory material and medical supplies from the British Society of Parasitology, to continue their activities in Venezuela.

Among the beneficiaries of this donation are the Venezuelan Science Incubator, and two laboratories belonging to the Tropical Medicine Institute at the Central University of Venezuela, the Molecular Biology Laboratory for Protozoa and the Biohelminthiasis Section.

The Venezuelan Science Incubator, led by Dr. Alberto Paniz, is a non-profit institution dedicated to promoting research, surveillance, and prevention of infectious and zoonotic diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, or protozoa such as Zika, Diphtheria, Chagas disease, and Leishmaniasis. The Molecular Biology Laboratory for Protozoa, led by Dr. Hernán Carrasco, has been monitoring the molecular epidemiology of Chagas disease in both urban and rural areas of the country for almost two decades. The Biohelminthiasis section, led by Dr. Oscar Noya, focuses on investigating and diagnosing different helminthiases of public health importance, as well as amoebiasis, Chagas disease, and Malaria.

Despite the inconveniences caused by the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year, the beneficiaries received equipment for test analysis, disease diagnosis, as well as general supplies for staff protection during laboratory procedures, allowing the continuity of their regular activities.

This kind of donation makes a huge impact because, since the beginning of the year 2000, Venezuela’s public health quality has been declining due to political and socioeconomic factors, causing both the migration of highly qualified professionals (health staff, researchers), as well as the shortage of medical and laboratory instruments and equipment. As a result, the country has a disproportionate resurgence of deadly diseases, which had been effectively controlled in previous decades.

Despite this, there are still various research groups throughout the country, responsible for dealing not only with diseases but also with the lack of supplies. To continue with their research line and fulfill their work, most of these professionals seek the help of foreign entities such as NGOs, to obtain financial resources and, thus, acquire materials and equipment to continue with clinical/laboratory activities.

In 2018, the VeConVen Network was established: a research group made up of several professionals in the health area and research, focused mainly on the monitoring and control of vector-borne and infectious diseases of interest to public health. The recent contribution made by the British Society of Parasitology to VeConVen members came at a great time, because it has been very helpful to carry out COVID-19 research in the country. However, supplies are limited, and without any type of government support, it is necessary to get some help from more societies, with both financial support and/or donations of second-hand equipment in good conditions, to continue with the follow-up, diagnosis, and control of diseases of public interest in Venezuela.

Please contact the BSP if you would like more information.

Parasitology 2021 ECR Prize call (for papers published in 2020)

We have introduced a new Early Career Researcher award, and will be giving an annual prize of £1000 for the best paper by an early career researcher published in an issue of Parasitology during the previous year (2020). Those eligible will normally be no more than 7 years post award of their PhD and should either be the first, last, or corresponding author of the article.

If you are eligible and would like to be considered for the 2021 award (for papers published in 2020), please can you email Alison Paskins (axpaskins@cambridge.org) with the following by the 10th February:

·         Your full name and the year of award of your PhD

·         Article title

·         A few sentences summarising the findings of your paper

Russell Stothard (Editor-in-Chief), and the Editors will then assess the papers, and announce the best paper later in the year.

Endosymbiotic Love Calendar – an art and science collaboration

Endosymbiotic love calendar is an art and science collaboration between performance artists and scientists working together to embody a microbe per month for 2021. This diverse team explores our understanding of gender, reproduction, sexual orientation, and social behaviour in microorganisms and placing the human at the centre of things. An everyday object- a calendar- is used to document this process to function as a familiar space to reflect on unfamiliar worlds and spark discussion.

Find out more about our live event or order/download your calendars here.

Neglected Tropical Diseases Lecture Series: Curated by David Molyneux

This lecture series provides a unique, up to date, and authoritative overview of Neglected Tropical Diseases in both the individual diseases and the cross cutting issues, such as Water and Sanitation and community roles, for the teaching and benefit of researchers, students, and staff in pharmaceutical companies, research institutions, and development organisations.

The lecture series can be accessed free of charge on this link

 

 

Opening of the call for proposals on biodiversity FRB-CESAB 2020

The Center for Biodiversity Synthesis and Analysis (CESAB) of the French Foundation for Biodiversity Research is opening a call for research projects, to fund at least three innovative projects relating to the synthesis of ideas and concepts and/or the analysis of existing data. The main aim of these projects should be to improve scientific knowledge of biodiversity and demonstrate how we can use this knowledge to better protect it. The submitted projects can deal with any topic related to biodiversity, in the fields of natural sciences or human and social sciences.

The selected projects will be funded for a period of three years, including: the recruitment of a post-doctoral student for two years, the organization of six meetings of the working group at CESAB and the promotion and publication of the results. The CESAB will also provide logistical, technical and administrative support.

Members of CESAB projects share their scientific expertise, available data and modeling tools to answer a wide range of biodiversity questions at all spatial and temporal scales. Composed of a maximum of 14 experts, each selected project must be coordinated by a recognized scientist attached to a French research organization. Please share!

Take part in two surveys

Survey on collecting and preserving study organisms and archiving

The Natural Science Collections COVID-19 Task Force (composed of researchers associated with natural history museum collections and/or biodiversity science) set as one of its aims to develop guidelines for linking host and microorganism/parasite samples and data. For this, we are requesting your participation in a brief questionnaire on common practices used by microbiologists for collecting and preserving study organisms (viral and otherwise) and archiving (collecting a voucher specimen) of the host organism. The survey (Qualtrics) and further information can be found here.

Survey on Horizon-scanning of research priorities on pathogen spill-over processes and their ecological correlates

As a group of ecologists, conservation biologists, taxonomists, virologists, epidemiologists, health care providers, veterinarians and social scientists, we recently established a COVID Task Force CETAF-DiSSCo joint action (CETAF = Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities, DiSSCo = Distributed System of Scientific Collections), with the aim to help clarify the links between biodiversity, human pressure and the origin and causes of coronaviruses disease, as well as to identify the actions that should be put in place to complement the efforts made in other disciplines. This effort is equally important to anticipate and prevent the occurrence and propagation of zoonotic infectious diseases worldwide.
One of the first tangible actions we want to pursue is to identify priority questions that biodiversity scientists should explore to reach a better understanding of pathogen origins, spill-over processes and their ecological correlates. The survey (Google doc) and full details can be accessed here.

IDDO’s schistosomiasis and STHs Research Agenda open for comments

A global collaboration dedicated to schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiases is looking for input into its new Research Agenda from the wider research community. The Infectious Diseases Data Observatory (IDDO) with TDR (the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases) aims to expand data re-use and collaboration and accelerate better treatment and control of these diseases.

The Research Agenda will be an active document, changing as priorities are addressed and new data collected, allowing for additional research questions for analysis to be considered over time. Compiled by the schistosomiasis and STHs Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) with global experts from the research community, the Agenda is a list of priority research questions, on treatment or other critical research areas, which could be tackled using individual patient data (IPD) meta-analysis or specific analyses based on pooled data (e.g. review of methodology). Its ongoing development will continue to be guided by the SAC and the wider schistosomiasis and STHs research community.

You can read the full draft Research Agenda here. Please email your feedback to schistosth@iddo.org by July 17, 2020.

The 2019 Autumn Symposium in Belfast

 

On 23rd September, the BSP hosted our annual Autumn Symposium.  This year’s theme was “post-genomic progress in helminth parasitology”. We welcomed 83 delegates from 10 countries to our lovely venue in Riddel Hall, on the Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) campus, in leafy South Belfast.

In our first session, we heard invited presentations from Angela Mousley (QUB) on how her lab is using multiple ‘omics approaches to understand neuropeptide biology in nematode parasites, followed by talks from John Gilleard (University of Calgary) and Jane Hodgkinson (University of Liverpool) on the genomic basis of drug resistance in, respectively, Haemonchus and Fasciola.  After a welcome caffeination opportunity, we focused on functional genomics, with Paul Brindley (George Washington University), and Elissa Hallem (UCLA) highlighting how we can better understand  parasite biology using genome editing, and Aaron Maule (QUB) putting the spotlight on RNAi and stem cells in Fasciola.  After a highly-praised lunch from Riddel Hall’s excellent catering department, we broadened our scope to look at small RNAs in nematodes (Collette Britton, University of Glasgow), evolution of symbiotic Wolbachia bacteria (Mark Blaxter, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute; kindly presenting via Skype due to a flight cancellation), and the role of GPCR signalling in reproductive development of schistosomes (Christoph Grevelding, Justus Liebig University).

During the subsequent poster session, we enjoyed drinks and nibbles alongside nineteen high-quality posters, with the calibre of postgraduate and postdoctoral research on show recognised by poster prizes (see list below), supported by Elsevier.

A BugBitten blog of the meeting by Tom Pennance is also available here.

The BSP would like to thank delegates and invited speakers for their contributions, and to pay special thanks to our headline sponsor, Cambridge University Press, and all of our other supporters: Analab, Elsevier, Queen’s University Belfast Core Technology Units, Irish Society for Parasitology, Microscope Services and Sales Ltd, Premier Scientific, VWR, and Queen’s University Belfast School of Biological Sciences Athena SWAN Team.

 

Congratulations to our poster prize winners as follows:

Students

1st Duncan Wells (poster 19; Queen’s University Belfast) (£150 prize)

2nd Jennifer Noonan (poster 18; McGill University, Canada) (£100 prize)

3rd Nicolas Feldman (poster 10; University of Buenos Aires, Argentina) (£50 prize)

Postdocs

1st Paul Airs (poster 12; Queen’s University Belfast) (£150 prize)

2nd Paul McCusker (poster 5; Medical College of Wisconsin, USA) (£100 prize)

3rd Oliver Weth (poster 14; Justus Liebig University, Germany) (£50 prize)