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Assessment of zoonotic risk in xenotransplantation: using big data epidemiology to establish risk in pig donors and human recipients.

Project Description

This paper-based (dry) project supports development of safe regenerative medicine methods which impact treatment of unmet clinical needs causing some of societies’ greatest health challenges including type1 diabetes, and end-stage organ failure (kidney/heart/liver). In the United States (US) these cause $95-100 billion and $50 billion of impact annually, respectively. In addition, there are implications for human antibodies used as vaccines against infectious agents (i.e. anthrax/MRSA/H1N1/HIV), hernia/tendon repair, breast reconstruction, and cardiovascular disease.

Pig organs, cells, and other viable tissues intended for xenotransplantation to human recipients have the potential to be an infectious disease hazard to the recipients and their care-givers. During development of tissues to be xenotransplanted, consideration of potential transmission of infectious pathogens between hosts is needed at several time-points within in vivo processes including from pig-to-pig within the managed herd, and from donated pig tissue to human recipient at the point of, and following, xenotransplantation. At present, the regenerative medicine industry undertakes basic risk assessment of potential pathogens likely to cause clinical issues, however, the identification of agents of concern is assessed nominally, without systematic selection and risk evaluation of a plethora of potential pathogens.
At the University of Liverpool we have built a risk assessment resource and methods for prioritising infectious pathogens based on a proxy for their impact. These tools will be used within this project to develop a systematic, effective, safer, evidence-based risk assessment process for the xenotransplantation industry, including:
• Developing a risk pathway to ascertain pathogens potentially causing risk;
• Semi-quantitatively calculating potential impacts of pathogens, in terms of herd and public health;
• Drafting the work into research outputs including presentations, publications and reports to the collaborators.

Training will include generic research skills such as: critical appraisal of research, IT skills, good research practice including scientific integrity and ethics, project and time management, literature searching and referencing, research writing, statistical analyses, as well as oral and written presentation of research. In addition, the student will gain high-level interdisciplinary training in infectious disease epidemiology with a focus on data mining, and assessment of research evidence, particularly in relation to zoonotic pathogens and disease.

This project will involve close collaboration with university staff, particularly Prof. Matthew Baylis and Dr. Maya Wardeh and industry collaborators, and a small amount of travel to the United States. The student will be registered for a MPhil and will develop a thesis for oral examination at the projects’ end.

The successful candidate will be based at the Leahurst Campus in the Department of Epidemiology and Population health, but may be required to spend some time on the Main Campus at the University of Liverpool. They will become part of a vibrant multidisciplinary team including veterinary and human public health specialists, epidemiologists and statisticians. This team has a proven track record of collaboration in multidisciplinary research projects. The student will join a cohort of PhD and masters students and post-doctoral researchers all undertaking research projects.

The Institute of Infection and Global Health is fully committed to promoting gender equality in all activities. In recruitment we emphasize the supportive nature of the working environment and the flexible family support that the University provides. The Institute holds a silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of on-going commitment to ensuring that the Athena SWAN principles are embedded in its activities and strategic initiatives.

Interested candidates should send a CV and covering letter by email to Dr. K. Marie McIntyre () with a copy to . Interviews will be held at the Leahurst Campus, University of Liverpool within 6 weeks of the closing date.

Start date: June-July 2019 (as soon as possible after appointment)

Funding Notes

Open to EU/UK applicants, with English Language entry requirements here View Website.

The successful candidate should have, or expect to obtain a UK Honours Degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent) in a biological (or equivalent) subject.

Essential background and knowledge: Some knowledge of infectious diseases would be an advantage.

This studentship is generously funded by the industrial collaborators and includes a tax free stipend of £15,000 for one year. All research expenses and fees at Home/EU rates are included, as is travel and subsistence costs for US trips.


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