Edinburgh Infectious Diseases
EID logo 2019

Supervisors and projects

There are 25 supervisors currently associated with the Programme. Find out about their research and the types of projects that you might work on in their labs.

Find out about the researchers who contribute to the programme.

The supervisors contributing to the Programme are mainly based in The Roslin Institute at Easter Bush, the Centres for Inflammation Research and Cardiovascular Research at Little France and the Usher Institute in the Old Medical School.

This page has information on the research each supervisor is involved in and details about a possible project that you could work on if you chose to undertake your PhD in that lab. 

Please note that when you apply to join the Programme you are not choosing a supervisor - you will select your PhD project toward the end of your first year in Edinburgh. 

Programme directors

The One Health Models of Disease PhD programme is directed by Prof Ross Fitzgerald, Chair of Molecular Bacteriology and Director of Edinburgh Infectious Diseases, at the Roslin Institute and Dr Martyn Pickersgill, Reader in the Social Studies of Biomedicine at the Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences and Informatics.

University profile of Ross Fitzgerald

University profile of Martyn Pickersgill

Supervisors and example projects

Prof Matt Bailey – Centre for Cardiovascular Science

Matt is chair of Renal Physiology at Edinburgh.  He investigates physiological and molecular pathways of cardiovascular and renal dysfunction in hypertension and renal disease. His research group has longstanding expertise in using innovative methodologies to assessment of hypertension and renal dysfunction in mice, including measurement of vascular and tubular function in vivo and ex vivo. He has published 75 papers and has been awarded >£2.5M in research funding and >£7.5M for Doctoral Training.  He currently has grants from Kidney Research UK, British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK.


Possible project title:  Salt & steroids: the molecular basis of vascular dysfunction in hypertension

Project description:  Advanced physiological assessment of cardiovascular functional will be combined with vascular transcriptomics to define the molecular basis of vascular dysfunction in models of glucocorticoid excess and salt-sensitive hypertension.

Prof Kenny Baillie – The Roslin Institute

The Baillie lab focuses on translation genomics in sepsis.  They are trying to understand the mechanisms that make people desperately sick in sepsis, so that they can find new treatments. This is their approach: (1) there is biological variation in the host response to injury; (2) some of this variation is genetic; (3) we can use this genetic variation to find new treatments.  They believe that a functional genomics approach can lead us to biological processes that might be amenable to treatment.  They develop and apply computational tools, and use in vitro and in vivo models to generate and test hypotheses, using influenza as a model for the host response to injury.  

Baillie lab website

Possible project title:  Genome editing in primary cells, tissues and in vivo in Cas9 transgenic pigs to promote survival in humans with sepsis

Project description:  Use CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing using cells and tissues available from Cas9 transgenic pigs, and in vivo, to investigate mechanisms of severe sepsis.

Prof Andy Baker – Centre for Cardiovascular Science

Andy's lab is interested in the mechanisms that control vascular damage and how to influence repair and regeneration of the vascular system using innovative therapies, including gene-, cell- and RNA-based approaches. Focusing on vascular smooth muscle and endothelial cells, they are defining the non-coding RNA pathways and networks that influence cell function in health and disease and developing interventions to influence beneficially repair and regeneration.

They also have a focus on gene therapy, both in the translational and basic sense. They have developed an innovative gene therapy approach to prevent pathological vascular remodelling associated with coronary artery bypass graft failure and are pursuing this at the clinical interface. They are also generating endothelial cells from human embryonic stem cells for regeneration in ischaemic conditions, and developing an understanding in mechanisms that control endothelial cell commitment and specification.

Lab website

Possible project:  Using human embryonic stem cell-derived endothelial cells to understand endothelial function and dysfunction.

Dr Geoffrey Banda – Global Food Security and Innovation


Prof Debby Bogaert – Centre for Inflammation Research

Respiratory infections are a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in children worldwide. The respiratory and bacterial pathogens causing these infections are actually common colonizers of the upper respiratory tract as well, living mostly in full harmony with the host. The reason why in one child colonization with those pathogens is followed by disease, and in others not, is not fully understood. 

Debby's research group has a major focus on investigating the physiology and pathophysiology of respiratory infections and inflammation from an ecological perspective, with the ultimate goal to design new or improved treatment and preventive measures for respiratory infections in susceptible populations. To this purpose, the team uses a fully translational approach, combining epidemiological, molecular microbiological, immunological and systems biology approaches to answer their research questions. Moreover, we execute mechanistic studies in vitro and in vivo. Debby still has a research team in Utrecht, the Netherlands, working on continuation of several birth cohorts and clinical studies.

Lab website

Possible project title:  Drivers of the human microbiome; the influence of pets and livestock.

Project description:  In this project we aim to study how the environment, in particular contact with animals, shape the human microbiome in childhood.  To study this, we can use of a molecular epidemiological and system science approach to cohort data, complemented by mechanistic work using in vitro models.

Dr David Collie – The Roslin Institute

David's group has a longstanding interest in developing a closer understanding of the mechanisms that underlay lung disease in domestic animals and man such that appropriate directed therapies can be developed and validated in a pre-clinical setting prior to their evaluation in a clinical context. Current research is directed towards understanding the mechanisms that underlay individual susceptibility to radiation-induced lung injury, and developing strategies to mitigate this risk. 

In addition our group is currently working towards understanding the way in which microbial communities develop and are arrayed within the healthy lung microbiota and how these communities are influenced by chronic lung infection, particularly in the context of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and/or treatment with antimicrobials.  These interests complement our longer term involvement in developing lung-directed gene therapy as a viable clinical entity. The driver in this instance is our involvement within the UK Cystic Fibrosis Gene Therapy Consortium, a grouping of the leading gene therapists in the UK. This involvement contributed to a major UK initiative that culminated in the largest ever human gene therapy trial for this condition.

Lab website

Possible project (1):  Exploring the impact of radiation-induced remodelling of the lung vascular bed in dictating susceptibility to lung injury following radiation exposure

Possible project (2):  Assessing the periodicity of respiratory microbiota in small ruminants, and exploring its impact on susceptibility to respiratory disease

Dr Megan Davey – The Roslin Institute

The Davey Group examines the causative alterations of gene expression which lead to variations in phenotype using comparative anatomy, genomics and embryonic manipulation of avian species. She has expertise in gene expression analysis, particularly the molecular anatomy of the developing limb bud and in the function of TALPID3, a ciliopathy locus.

Additionally Dr Davey is the Roslin Institute Lead for Public Engagement.

Lab website

Possible Project 1: Investigation of Joubert Syndrome and TALPID3 related ciliopathies with gene engineering approaches.

TALPID3 is a ciliopathy disease locus in humans and animals. Using pioneering gene engineering approaches in a chicken embryonic model we will create and study an allelic series of human TALPID3 mutations to investigate the underlying  cell biology, anatomy and immune system of Joubert syndrome patients.

Possible Project 2: The role of TALPID3 in the immune synapse

TALPID3 is a centrosomal protein, essential for ciliogenesis and normal polarised cell behaviour. Using transgenic and genome engineering approaches we will investigate the role of TALPID3 in immune synapse formation in macrophages.

Prof David Dockrell – Centre for Inflammation Research

Macrophages play a key role in the pathogenesis of infectious diseases. We are interested in understanding how key macrophage innate immune functions protect healthy individuals against infection, despite recurring challenge, and how these core responses are perturbed by human disease inducing susceptibility to infection. We believe that by optimising innate immune responses we can limit our reliance on antimicrobial therapy and provide an alternative strategy to that focused on targeting pathogens by vaccine responses or with antimicrobials to which they can develop resistance. 

We study a variety of bacterial infections but focus in particular on Streptococcus pneumoniae and other respiratory pathogens. We also examine Staphylococcus aureus and are interested in how HIV and other viral infections alter the macrophage responses to bacteria. We use a variety of models to interrogate the macrophages' function both in isolation and as part of an immune cell network. These approaches include working with patients with chronic diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and HIV. We are also interested in developing effective screening approaches to identify and manipulate key innate immune responses.

Lab website

Possible project title:  Enhancing macrophage microbicidal responses to limit bacterial pathogens in livestock

Project description:  Innate immune responses are broadly conserved and this project will build on knowledge of microbicidal responses in humans to determine their utility as therapeutic targets in livestock.

Prof Ross Fitzgerald – Roslin Institute

The Fitzgerald group is currently combining comparative genomics and phylogenetics with functional analyses and models of infection to investigate bacterial pathogenesis and antibiotic resistance at the interface between humans and animals. The main bacterial pathogens of interest include the model multi-host pathogen Staphylococcus aureus and Legionella pneumophila, the cause of the severe respiratory disease of humans known as Legionnaires disease. A major goal is the translation of fundamental discoveries into novel approaches to controlling infectious disease such as diagnostics and vaccines.

Lab website

Possible PhD project: The rise and fall of bacterial pathogenic clones.

Project description: The project would involve a combination of phylogenomic analysis of hundreds of bacterial genome sequences with functional and infection assays to understand how new bacterial pathogens emerge, how they adapt to new niches and why they typically decline in competition with new emerging clones.

Prof David Gally – The Roslin Institute

Our group studies how bacteria cause infections in animals and humans in order to develop interventions. Over the last few years we have focused on new approaches to phage therapy. The concept of using viruses (bacteriophages) that kill bacteria to treat infections, especially of multi-drug resistant bacteria, is a promising alternative or addition to overused antibiotics. Phage therapy has been around for just over a hundred years with some success and some failure. The main hurdles to successful therapy are identifying phage cocktails that will target the infecting bacteria in different ways to restrict evasion of predation coupled with the fact that the phage have to be effective in the natural host environment as opposed to the often very different conditions used to culture the bacteria in the laboratory. 

Our work combines advances in genomics with screening of interactions under realistic infection conditions to select phage combinations that have a higher chance of helping cure the infection. We work on treating urinary tract infections (UTIs) caused by E. coli in dogs and humans; while these are common, a subset can be very long-term while others can spread in the bloodstream (bacteraemia) and be lethal.

Possible project title:  Development of one health models of phage therapy of urinary tract infections in dogs and humans

Project description:  With our focus on phage therapy for E. coli urinary tract infections, while we can carry our tests in urine to get closer to the actual infection conditions, we ideally would also include the host cells colonised by E. coli along with possible host responses.  The project will therefore develop and explore different models of UTI infection for phage therapy, in particular growth of bladder cells lines, extracted tissue and organoids.  The group is also developing a pig model of UTI that would be an important advance to allow testing of phage delivery and the interaction of phage with host responses and antibiotic treatments. Specific projects will be submitted separately as requested by the organisers of the programme. The projects will all fit within our existing phage therapy group and should allow exploration of many different techniques and will have options for development into different areas of interest to the student if built into a PhD.

Personal profile

Dr Eleanor Gaunt – The Roslin Institute

Dr Eleanor Gaunt is a Group Leader at the Roslin Institute, where she investigates the genetic coding strategies of viruses that cause respiratory diseases, recently focussing on the novel coronavirus.

Personal profile

Possible project title:  Engineering attenuated influenza A viruses by increasing genomic CpG content

Project description:  Modifying the nucleotide composition of viral genomes without altering protein sequence is an emerging field of study for the generation of live attenuated vaccines. You will use influenza A virus as a tractable model system to explore whether adding CpG dinucleotides to segments 2 and 3 of the viral genome is a plausible attenuation strategy.

Prof Gillian Gray – Centre for Cardiovascular Science

Survival following acute myocardial infarction (MI), or heart attack, has increased thanks to efficient intervention to restore blood supply to the myocardium, or heart muscle. However, the myocardium still incurs damage, and as the adult heart does cannot efficiently regenerate new tissue, a fibrous scar is formed that does not contribute to contraction. In the longer term the remaining healthy heart undergoes remodelling while trying to maintain cardiac output, leading to an increased chance of developing of debilitating chronic heart failure. 

My research is focused primarily on understanding how to limit the loss of contractile tissue that occurs immediately after MI, but in particular the processes involved in infarct healing (inflammation, fibroblast activation & angiogenesis) and how these might be targeted therapeutically to prevent infarct expansion during repair. We also work on development of new imaging techniques to identify vulnerable peri-infarct myocardium and on the mechanisms that support neonatal heart regeneration after injury.

Lab website

Possible project title:  Characterisation of infarct repair in a translational pig model of myocardial infarction

Project description: This project, based in the Centre for Cardiovascular Science at the Bioquarter will involve investigation of mechanisms involved in wound repair in the heart, linked to a project where we have shown beneficial functional outcomes with a novel pharmacological intervention. The project might involve mass spec imaging, transcriptomics or proteomics, depending on where we are with the project when you are in the lab.

Dr Finn Grey – The Roslin Institute

The Grey Lab uses cutting-edge tools to examine the interactions between the host and pathogens such as cytomegalovirus, influenza virus and African Trypanosomiasis.  Pathogens interact with hosts in complex and intricate ways. Understanding how pathogens interact with the host can provide valuable information on how the pathogen replicates and teach us how the host responds to infections, ultimately leading to the development of better vaccines, drugs and treatment regimes.

Systematic high throughput screens are powerful approaches that allow us to examine the role of host genes during infection.  Our group uses cutting-edge high throughput approaches including small interfering RNA (siRNA) and CRISPR/Cas9 screens, arrayed interferon stimulated gene (ISG) expression libraries and microRNA target identification to discover and characterise novel host-pathogen interactions. We work on human clinical diseases including human cytomegalovirus, diseases important to livestock, and pathogens that span both human and livestock, such as influenza virus and African Trypanosomiasis.

Lab website

Possible project title:  Identification of novel host-virus interactions through phenotypic screening

Project description:  Our group uses cutting-edge high throughput approaches to discover and characterise novel host-pathogen interactions to improve our basic understanding of pathogens and to identify therapeutic targets.

Prof Jayne Hope – The Roslin Institute

The group focuses on cellular immune responses aiming to define the mechanisms whereby natural immunity is achieved and how protective immunity is induced by vaccination. We focus specifically on antigen presenting cells and their interactions with other cells of the innate immune system including natural killer cells and gamma delta TCR+ T lymphocytes. The overall aim is to define the functional and phenotypic characteristics of innate immune cells and to assess their role in protective immunity to mycobacterial pathogens including Mycobacterium bovis and M. avium paratuberculosis. These pathogens cause economically important diseases in cattle: bovine tuberculosis and Johne’s disease.

Alongside this we are interested in defining host-pathogen interactions in feline tuberculosis. Effective control of mycobacterial diseases requires the development of effective vaccines and/or diagnostic tests: this requires detailed knowledge of protective immune mechanisms. The development of new immunological tools, reagents and assays and validation across species is also an important area of research. This will provide the capacity to determine immunological correlates of protection against a number of strategically important diseases.

Lab website

Possible project title:  Using stem cell-derived macrophages to investigate infection mechanisms of Mycobacterium bovis

Project description:  This project will investigate the mechanisms by which Mycobacterium bovis, which causes TB in cattle and humans, infects host macrophages and causes disease.

Dr Erika Kague – Centre For Genomic & Experimental Medicine

Did you know that Osteoarthritis affects about 7% of the world population? This represents over 500 million people, more than the population in the USA alone, suffering pain and disability worldwide. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that affects the joints and is commonly found in the ageing population. Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of pain and disability among the elderly worldwide. Unfortunately, there are no treatments for this debilitating disease.

Our group focuses on studying the molecular and cellular mechanisms associated with osteoarthritis. We aim to understand the factors that contribute to disease progression and could potentially be therapeutic targets. We use zebrafish as a model organism to study osteoarthritis. Zebrafish are small, fresh water fish, commonly seen in pet shops that surprisingly develop osteoarthritis similar to humans. One of the advantages of zebrafish is their transparency, allowing us to study how the joints and bones of zebrafish are formed in real-time, using reporter lines that label different cell types with fluorescent proteins.

In our laboratory, we manipulate candidate genes in zebrafish using CRISPR/CAS9 and study how these genes influence the formation and maintenance of the joints. We are particularly interested in genes expressed in a bone cell type called osteocytes and how these genes play a role in osteoarthritis. Also, we are interested to understand how neurons innervate the joints and their role in cartilage and bone repair and regeneration.

Personal Profile

Possible project title: Investigating the function of osteocyte-expressing genes in osteoarthritis progression 

 Project description: This project aims to understand the impact of mutations in osteocyte genes on joint formation, osteocyte morphology, and osteoarthritis progression using zebrafish knockouts. We will use diverse techniques to image cartilage and bone, immunostaining, and advance imaging resources.

Possible project title: Exploring the role of nerve growth factor (NGF) in cartilage and bone repair and regeneration

Project description: This project involves studying zebrafish mutants for NGF to investigate potential changes in cartilage and bone innervation. We will induce injuries in the cartilage and bones of larvae zebrafish and follow their repair in both controls and mutant zebrafish.

Possible project title: Underpinning sensorial neuron innervation in cartilage and bone repair, regeneration and degeneration using zebrafish

Project description: In this project, the student will characterise sensorial neuron innervation to zebrafish joints using transgenic reporter lines, immunostaining techniques, and confocal imaging to gain insights into cartilage and bone repair, regeneration and degeneration processes.

Prof Rowland Kao – The Roslin Institute

Prof Kao is a mathematical biologist who studies infectious disease dynamics, mainly with respect to the role of demography in the spread and persistence of livestock diseases, such as foot-and-mouth disease, bovine tuberculosis, scrapie, BSE and avian influenza in poultry. This work includes the development of theoretical models of disease transmission on social networks and applications to the transmission of livestock diseases using simple differential equation models, analysis of social networks, statistics and simulations. Increasingly, it involves the integrated analysis of genetic and epidemiological data to determine the characteristics of disease outbreaks, with bovine Tuberculosis being a lead example.

Research Profile

Possible project title:  TBA

Project description: TBA

Dr Nicola Lynskey – The Roslin Institute

Research in the Lynskey Lab is focused on understanding the mechanisms by which novel lineages of pathogenic bacteria evolve and adapt to diverse niches, using the multi-host pathogen Group B Streptococcus (GBS) as a model species. The lab combines next gen sequencing techniques with genetics approaches to identify and characterise bacterial factors that drive lineage evolution. We also develop novel 3D tissue models, including organoids, to study how these bacterial factors facilitate adaptation to diverse host species and infection sites.

Personal profile

Possible project title:  Application of novel 3D model to characterise bacterial factors driving adaptation of GBS to the bovine dairy niche.   

Project description:  This project will involve characterisation of GBS interactions with the bovine mammary epithelium, and the role of specific bacterial factors already identified by a genome-wide association study, in adaption to the dairy niche.

Dr Vicky Macrae

Our group undertakes research in bone formation and vascular calcification. We examine the mechanisms of differentiation and calcification in growth plate chondrocytes, osteoblasts, vascular smooth muscle cells and valvular interstitial cells.

Our research employs transgenic models and clinical samples and utilises use a range of molecular, histological and imaging techniques. The elucidation of new mechanisms of bone formation and vascular calcification may identify new potential therapeutic targets in human and animal disease.

Lab website

Possible project title: Using large animal models to discover new molecular pathways of cardiovascular calcification

Project description:  This project will employ sheep and pig in vitro and ex vivo models of blood vessel and aortic valve calcification to investigate new mechanisms underpinning cardiovascular calcification.

Dr Gerry McLachlan – The Roslin Institute

The main long-term focus of my research has been on developing lung-directed gene therapy as a viable clinical entity. My group is part of the UK Cystic Fibrosis Gene Therapy Consortium (CFGTC), a grouping of leading gene therapists in the UK. Over two decades the CFGTC has pooled the resources of three major groups in the UK (University of Edinburgh, University of Oxford and Imperial College London), progressing from laboratory studies, to the first demonstration that gene therapy can produce improvements in the lungs of CF patients in the largest ever human gene therapy trial for this condition. 

We are now in a position to take advantage of unique expertise in Edinburgh in delivery, sampling and lung function measurement in a large mammalian lung model that we have established. An added objective of the CFGTC is the translation of gene therapy for a Portfolio of diseases by exploiting the synergies provided by our respiratory gene delivery platform technology, a critical mass of researchers with complementary extensive expertise, the use of common resources, and respiratory gene transfer expertise.  Other interests include studies in the sheep lung to explore the functional relevance of the respiratory microbiota.

We are investigating potential spatial heterogeneity within different regions of the healthy lung, the longitudinal stability and the potential changes following infection and/or antibiotic treatment.  We also have an interest in evaluating protocols to manipulate the composition of the respiratory microbiota in vivo.

Personal profile

Possible project title:  Ovine and Porcine lung organoids and cultured Precision Cut Lung Slices (PCLS) to predict efficacy of gene therapy vectors for respiratory disease

Project description:  Development of lung organoids and PCLS from large animal species potentially give greater scope for understanding and intervening with human pathogenic processes in the lung.  We have pioneered the use of sheep and pigs to improve translational potential of respiratory gene therapy vectors.

Dr Rebecca Marsland – School of Social and Political Science

Dr Marsland is interested in Medical Anthropology, Tanzania, East Africa, Funerals, International development, HIV and AIDS, Witchcraft, Human-animal relationships/Multispecies Anthropology, Bees, Veterinary Anthropology, One Health.  She is currently writing up an ESRC-funded research project on bees and beekeepers called Beelines.

Personal profile

Possible project title:  TBA

Project description:  TBA

Prof Martyn Pickersgill – Centre for Biomedicine Self and Society, Usher Institute

Martyn Pickersgill is Wellcome Trust Reader in Social Studies of Biomedicine. Based in Edinburgh Medical School, he conducts research in the social sciences and medical humanities. Martyn's primary expertise is in the sociology of biomedicine and mental health. In particular, his work has considered the social, historical, and normative dimensions of epigenetics, neuroscience, and psychiatry.

Personal profile

Possible project title:  Sociological Dimensions of Animal Welfare and Gene Editing

Project description:  This project will be co-designed between student and the supervisory team, and relate to the social dimensions of gene editing, and specifically how welfare concerns are constructed, negotiated, and (potentially) resolved within gene editing research.

Dr Joe Rainger – The Roslin Institute

Joe is a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow, Roslin Institute Fellow, and a University of Edinburgh ESAT Fellow. His research group aims to understand the complex processes that underly embryonic tissue fusion processes.

His research is focused on fusion of tissues in the developing retina and uses chicken embryology as a key experimental model system. Current focus is placed upon revealing specificities of gene transcription at defined stages of tissue fusion and revealing the regulatory networks that control these transcriptional responses. This is combined with studies of intra- and inter-cellular molecular interactions and dynamic cell behaviours and exploring the influence of non-genetic and environmental factors that may affect tissue fusion. The overall goal for the group is to translate these into improving clinical diagnostics and to ultimately determine potential therapeutic and prophylactic approaches in the context of tissue fusion disorders.

Use is made of transgenic chicken lines from the National Avian Research Facility (NARF, Roslin Institute) and the development of novel transgenic resources to further our understanding of tissue fusion mechanisms in the eye and other embryonic regions. This includes extensive incorporation of gene editing technologies in cells and chick embryos. Existing collaborations with clinical paediatricians and ophthalmologists support the identification and experimental validation of causative genetic mutations in patients and families affected by a wide range of tissue fusion defects.

Personal profile

Research explorer profile

Possible project titles: 

(1) Understanding the impact of vitamin deficiency and other gestational challenges to developmental tissue fusion defects.

(2) Modelling the cell behavioural dynamics during embryonic epithelial fusion processes.

(3) Characterising the basement membrane compositional changes that enable closure of the optic fissure in the context of ocular coloboma.

Prof Rob Semple – Centre for Cardiovascular Science

My overarching interest is in the causes and consequences of abnormal insulin action in human disease. I aim ultimately to gain insights into the nature and mechanisms of "common" insulin resistance, and into potentially modifiable mechanisms linking it to major diseases such as type 2 diabetes, fatty liver, dyslipidaemia, subfertility and cancer.

To achieve this, my lab focuses on the genetic, cellular and molecular basis of extreme human disorders of insulin action, whether genetic or antibody-mediated, and ranging from severe insulin resistance to spontaneous non insulin-dependent hypoglycaemia. Many of the conditions we study feature primary abnormalities either the insulin receptor (INSR) or downstream phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase (PI3K).  

As well as undertaking mechanistically informative studies of relevance to common disease, I have a major translational interest in improving diagnostic pathways and therapy for patients with these rare disorders. Core approaches include physiological phenotyping of humans with rare genetic syndromes, dissection of insulin action in primary cells from affected patients ex vivo, and identification of causative genetic defects using hypothesis-led and non hypothesis-driven genetic approaches.

Lab website

Prof Mark Stevens – The Roslin Institute

Research in the Stevens laboratory aims to improve food safety and enhance the health and welfare of farmed animals by defining the role of host and bacterial factors during Salmonella, Campylobacter and Escherichia coli infections. These agents have been estimated to collectively cause 174 million cases of acute diarrhoeal illness in humans and 80,000 deaths worldwide each year and infections can be complicated by life-threatening sequelae. Such infections are frequently acquired via the food chain and environment from farm animals and control of the agents in reservoir hosts is expected to reduce the incidence of human disease.

Toward this aim, a mix of fundamental, strategic and applied projects exploit knowledge of the role of bacterial and host factors in pathogenesis to develop and evaluate methods of disease control. His research is conducted at all levels from molecules to target animals and provides insights that cannot be obtained in surrogate rodent- or cell-based assays. Current emphasis is placed on identifying bacterial virulence factors and their mode of action, understanding the genetic architecture of host resistance to guide selective breeding, evaluating novel vaccines and studying the dynamics of transfer of antimicrobial resistance.

Personal profile

Possible project title:  Analysis of the role of bacterial factors in the pathogenesis of typhoid using novel surgical & 3Rs approaches

Project description:  My laboratory has developed novel surgical and 3Rs models to study Salmonella pathogenesis in cattle, which closely resembles disease in humans. The project will combine these models with genetic approaches to study the role of specific bacterial factors in persistence, pathology and protection.

Dr Alice Street – School of Social and Political Science

Alice Street is Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology in the School of Social and Political Science. Based in the Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology, her research involves social studies of health systems, global health interventions and medical technologies. Current projects include the ethics of self-testing, the development and use of point-of-care-tests in under-resourced settings, and the development of sustainable medical devices.

Personal profile

Possible project title:  The social and ethical dimensions of Monkeypox testing

Project description:  Highly accurate tests for Monkeypox already exist. But ensuring those tests reach the right people in the right places, that they are carried out in a reliable way, and that people are able to act on the results remains a major challenge. This project will involve a review of current scientific publications and grey literature around Monkeypox testing to examine how social and ethical dimensions of these challenges have been portrayed and addressed by governments and public health authorities. The social and ethical particularities of Monkeypox testing (e.g. issues of stigma, trust, and disclosure) will be contextualised social science research on testing programmes for other, comparable, diseases, such as HIV, in order to understand what lessons might be learned from other epidemics.

Dr Christine Tait-Burkard – The Roslin Institute

Prof Bruce Whitelaw – The Roslin Institute

Bruce Whitelaw's group is focused on animal genetic engineering. Through evaluating application of genetic engineering and advanced reproductive technologies we aim to improve livestock health, develop new livestock breeding strategies to enhance overall agricultural productivity, and progress innovative biotech solutions in biomedicine. By altering livestock genomes using precise genome editing technology like CRISPR-Cas9 we tackle costly livestock diseases, devise innovative breeding strategies, address the challenge of increasing protein production in livestock agriculture, investigate how gene drives could be applied in animals and explore opportunities to develop new disease-treatments.

Lab website

Possible project title:  Engineering resistance to pestivirus

Project description:  Can we exploit CRISPR/cas9 technology to identify host genetic resistance to pestivirus infections that has application in farmed animals and humans.

Prof Andrea Wilson – The Roslin Institute

Research in the Doeschl-Wilson group focuses on the development of mathematical models and computational tools that enhance our understanding how the genetics of individuals and diverse non-genetic factors together influence the dynamics of infectious diseases and their impact on the health and performance of individuals and of entire livestock populations. We use these tools to (1) DESIGN infection experiments and sampling strategies that let us detect the genetic signal from disease and performance data; (2) IDENTIFY individuals or genomic regions associated with high genetic resistance or tolerance to infections, or high genetic risk for transmitting infections (infectivity); (3) PREDICT the impact of genetic and non-genetic control strategies on future disease prevalence and pathogen evolution.

We use a wide range of modelling techniques that combine methods from mathematical dynamical systems theory, Bayesian statistics, and quantitative genetics. Applications include virus infections in pigs (Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, PRRS) and chicken (Marek’s disease), gastro-intestinal parasite infections in sheep, bacterial infections in cattle (bovine Tuberculosis), to virus and protozoa infections in fish.   We also apply mathematical tools to study genetic effects and group dynamics underlying aggressive behaviour in pigs.

Personal profile

Possible project title:  Genetic dissection of individual health trajectories and their role in disease transmission

Project description:  We will use novel mathematical and computational techniques such hidden Markov models and deep learning to dissect individuals’ health trajectories and how manipulation of these may affect disease transmission dynamics in the future

Dr Tom Wishart – The Roslin Institute

Research in the Wishart laboratory is aimed at understanding the cellular and molecular processes which underpin the development and stability of the nervous system in health and disease, with a more specific focus on the biology of the neuron.It is accepted that the neuron can be compartmentalized (grossly speaking) with respect to both form and function into three units: the cell body (or soma and associated dendrites), the axon and the synapse.

It is also known that stability of the axon and synapse can be affected independently of one another. Synapses are of special interest to us as it is becoming increasingly accepted that they are a primary pathological target in a number of neurodegenerative conditions, including but by no means limited to; Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and motor neuron diseases. That is to say, synapses go first and the rest of the neuron follows. As age increases the susceptibility to many of these neurodegenerative conditions, the ever increasing life expectancy of current society means that the costs associated with neurodegenerative diseases are only going to escalate over the coming years. It is therefore critical that we develop a clearer understanding of the mechanisms which underpin healthy development and stability of synapses and the regulators of altered synaptic/neuronal vulnerability.

Personal profile

Possible project title:  Multi species investigation of PPT1 and Nervous system stability in health and disease.

Project description:  Analysis of the anatomical and molecular consequences of the childhood neurodegeneration inducing PPT1 mutation in mouse, sheep and human tissue samples with assessment of subsequently identified novel regulators in rapid in vivo systems.

Further information

If you have any questions about the Programme or about the application process,  we are very happy to hear from you.  Please contact contact us via the Future Students helpline in the first instance.

Contact the Future Students helpline