Dr David Cavanagh (BSc (Edinburgh), PhD (Newcastle upon Tyne))

Senior Lecturer in Immunology; Immunology Honours Programme Organiser; Associate Director of Teaching

  • 1. Institute of Immunology and Infection Research
  • 2. Centre for Immunology, Infection and Evolution
  • 3. Edinburgh Infectious Diseases

Contact details



Institute of Immunology and Infection Research,
University of Edinburgh,
Ashworth Laboratories,
Kings Buildings

Post code


BSc Hons Biological Sciences (Microbiology) University of Edinburgh

PhD (Biochemistry) University of Newcastle upon Tyne

Responsibilities & affiliations

Chair of the Undergraduate Curriculum Council , SBS

Associate Director of Teaching, SBS Learning and Teaching Committee

Intercalated Honours Executive Committee, CMVM 

Biological Safety Officer, SBS

Undergraduate teaching

Senior Honours Roles

I was until recently the Programme Organiser for Immunology Honours. This involved the administration and organization of the Immunology Honours Programme at the University of Edinburgh. Teaching on this programme is based in the Institute of Immunology and Infection Research, Ashworth Laboratories, Kings Buildings. Dr. Matt Taylor has taken over running the programme  since 2017. I also teach on the Clinical Immunology and Haematology 3B, Parasite Biology 3 and Immunology 3 courses in 3rd year.

Molecular Immunology (Course Organiser And Lecturer)

This is one of two core courses for the Biological Sciences BSc. Hons (Immunology) degree, and runs in semester 1 from September to December. This course covers molecular aspects of the basic biology of the immune system. The course focuses on the molecules and receptors involved in initiating and sustaining the immune response, beginning with roles of the molecules of innate immune system in recognizing invading pathogens, and then moving on to the mechanisms by which the adaptive immune system is then primed to respond to antigenic stimulus. The course covers some of the major molecules of the immune system, including innate immune receptors, MHC, TCR and BCR (including immunoglobulin), and the signalling pathways from these molecules that initiate or regulate immune responses.

The aims of the course include gaining a detailed working knowledge of the immune system, enhancing and developing presentation skills, and understanding how to read and analyse primary literature on aspects of immunology that are fundamental. The course is a mixture of lectures and student presentations, with an emphasis on developing advanced skills in immunology. I teach this course with Professor Rose Zamoyska and Dr. Dietmar Zaiss

Immunobiology Of Malaria (Lecturer)

This course is an elective on the Immunology Honours Programme. It takes the form of lectures, presentations and discussion sessions on the immunology and biology of malaria, with an emphasis on the disease in humans. I lecture on parasite antigenic polymorphism and immune responses to malaria parasites. Malaria is a strong focus of research in Edinburgh and the course draws on that history and expertise in its teaching. The clinical immunology and pathology of the disease and the development of vaccine against malaria are also covered in the course. I teach this course with Alex Rowe, Phil Spence and Joanne Thompson.

Experimental Immunology 

I tutor on the project preparation course above, which provides paper analysis tutorials, theoretical and practical group work in the areas of experimental design, biochemical techniques, statistics, flow cytometry, bioinformatics and Python coding for the 4th year Immunology class. 


Immunology Projects

We offer 3 month lab projects for Immunology Honours students. Projects in my lab range from basic research into the functions of Plasmodium falciparum proteins to the seroepidemiology of mal

aria infection. Recent projects have included the production of human monoclonal antibodies from EBV immortalised human B cells, characterisation of the MSP3.3 gene product, and investigation of antibody affinity as a surrogate marker of protection.

Junior Honours Roles

Immunology 3 (Lecturer And Practical Course Organiser)

Immunology 3 is the third year course that is compulsory for those students going on to take Immunology at Honours level. I give lectures on the generation of the BCR and TCR repertoire, structure and function of antibodies, antigen processing and presentation, and the MHC complex. I have introduced post lecture revsion quizzes to help students revise the topics I cover in my lectures. 

I organise the Immunology 3 practical course and run practical classes on flow cytometry and haemagglutination. I developed and now run the in-course practical test which uses an online based system called ExamOnline.

Clinical Immunology And Haematology 3B (Tutor)

I designed and now take tutorials in CI&H3B and have acted as a Wiki mentor and marker for this course in the past. 

Parasite Biology 3

Lecturer on malaria pathogenesis and immunity






Postgraduate teaching

MSc Biotechnology - lecturer on Vaccines and Molecular Therapies course, covering the history of vaccination and pre-clinbical development of vaccines. 

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Past PhD students supervised

Seth Amanfo - (2013-2017) Darwin Trust PhD student

Kelwalin Dhanasarnsombut (2007-2013).   MSc by research in the Life Sciences, graduate research assistant, followed by PhD. Funded by University of Edinburgh staff scholarship and by the EU (FP6)

Lynne Harris (2009-2013) Wellcome Trust PhD student. 

Prachi Kabra (2013) MSc project student

Meghana Surapaneni (2013) MSc project student

Mallory Earnshaw (2007-8) MSc by research in the Life Sciences

Rachel Kenneil (2006-7) MSc by research in the Life Sciences

Research summary

The research interests of the group centre on the immunobiology of the human malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. We examine the development of antibody responses to the malaria parasite in naturally exposed individuals, including the associations between specific responses and protection against clinical malaria episodes. The main thrust of our research at present is on the development of vaccines, based on recombinant surface proteins derived from genes expressed by the merozoite stage of the parasite life cycle. We are presently examining the functional activity of these antibodies in parasite growth inhibition assays in vitro. In addition, and as a spin-off from this work, recombinant P. falciparum antigens developed in the laboratory are used in malaria diagnostic kits by national blood transfusion services in the UK and abroad.

We have identified a novel target for malaria vaccine development, namely the N-terminal region of merozoite surface protein 1 (MSP-1) and and newly characaterised merozoite antigen, MSP3.3.

Earlier work in lab has shown that this region of MSP-1 is the target of naturally acquired antibodies, which are associated with protection from clinical malaria symptoms in susceptible African children. In vivo protection against experimental virulent malaria infection, by immunisation with a recombinant protein from the N-terminal region of MSP-1, has also been demonstrated in the Aotus lemurinus model. Future plans include the development of vaccine constructs based on this immunogenic region of MSP-1 in several vaccine delivery systems, including hybrid measles-malaria virus vaccines and more conventional protein-based systems.

Merozoite surface protein 3.3 is unique amongst the MSP-3 family members in that it possesses a signal sequence for export to the infected RBC cytoplasm. We have shown that MSP3.3 is exported to the cytoplasm during parasite development in the RBC, and is also found on the surface of merozoites after RBC lysis. Antibodies raised by immunisation to MSP3.3 have potent anti-parasite effects, and retard parasite development inside the infected red blood cell. We are currently characterising the location and function(s) of MSP3.3 to better understand its role in parasite development.