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2019 Ker Memorial Prize awarded for work on the immune system in Drosophila

Edinburgh Infectious Diseases is delighted to announce that the 2019 Ker Memorial Prize has been awarded to Dr Billy Palmer from the School of Biological Sciences.

Bily Palmer
Winner of the 2019 Ker Memorial Prize for Infectious Diseases, Dr Billy Palmer.

The Ker Memorial Prize is an annual award made to recognise the best PhD thesis in infectious disease research at the University of Edinburgh. 

Billy carried out his thesis work with Dr Darren Obbard in the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, studying the evolution and genetics of antiviral immunity in Drosophila.

Virus infection is detrimental to host fitness, and therefore hosts have evolved immune defences, which limit virus replication. This conflict may result in coevolution of the host and virus genes involved, a process that can define important infection parameters such as host range and virulence.

To better understand the host genes that may be co-evolving with viruses, I quantified adaptation in immunity genes and isolated a virus native to the model organism Drosophila melanogaster, and mapped host resistance polymorphisms and virus-encoded immune suppressors.

Billy Palmer2019 Ker Memorial Prize winner

He will present his work at the Edinburgh Infectious Diseases Annual symposium on Wednesday 5 June at the Royal College of Physicans in Queen Street, where he will also receive a prize of £500.

Billy is one of the most able, independent, dedicated and productive graduate students I have had the pleasure of meeting.

Darren ObbardUniversity of Edinburgh

Billy is now a postdoc with Prof. Sara Cherry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ker Memorial Lecture

The 2019 Ker Memorial Lecture will be given at the Annual Symposium by Professor Sharon Peacock, who has recently been appointed as the interim Director of the National Infection Service at Public Health England. 

Her talk will be on "Genomic evidence for transmission of human pathogens: a tale of two halves".

Sharon Peacock, PHE
Sharon Peacock, 2019 Ker Memorial Lecturer. Image credit UCL.

Sharon is also Professor of Public Health and Microbiology at the University of Cambridge, and honorary consultant microbiologist at the Cambridge clinical and public health laboratory based at Addenbrookes Hospital. 

Having worked as an academic in microbiology in the United Kingdom and South East Asia for the last 25 years, she has trained 22 Ph.D. students and published more than 400 scientific articles and book chapters.

Her appointment as the NIS Director marks a return to PHE having started clinical microbiology training with the Public Health Laboratory Service in 1992, at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

The Ker Memorial Prizes

The Ker Prizes are very generously supported by Miss Aileen Ker, in memory of two outstanding Edinburgh physicians, her grandfather Dr. Claude Buchanan Ker, and his son (her father), Dr. Frank Leighton Ker.

The Ker family also support the presentation of the Ker Memorial Lecture, given by an eminent invited scientist in Infectious Diseases.

Dr. 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.

Dr. Frank Leighton Ker (1907-1966), began his medical career in Edinburgh and went on to carry out his main work at the East Birmingham Hospital, where he became medical superintendent in 1950.

The glowing and heartfelt obituaries written for both these men, show the enormous regard and affection in which they were held, and to which the Ker Memorial Prize and Lecture now provide fitting testimony.

Related links

Edinburgh Infectious Diseases Symposium 2019