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Investigating the potentially blinding protozoan eye infection Acanthamoeba Keratitis

   Research Institute of Healthcare Sciences

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  Dr Wayne Heaselgrave  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Acanthamoeba is a common environmental free-living amoeba which is characterised by a life cycle of a feeding and replicating trophozoite which in response to adversity, can transform into a highly resistant cyst stage. Acanthamoeba are opportunistic pathogens of humans, causing a potentially blinding keratitis in previously healthy persons. Contact lens wearers are most at risk from Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) and account for some 90 % of reported cases.

In the UK there are approximately 4.5 million contact lens wearers and approximately 200 cases of the infection each year. Currently, no licenced treatment exists for this infection although patients can be treated with combinations of compound including the disinfectant PHMB. However, many patients particularly those diagnosed late do not respond to the treatment and suffer irreversible destruction of the corneal tissue. It is not a single species of Acanthamoeba that can cause human infection and AK has been reported to been caused by several different species. In addition to being a direct pathogen of humans, Acanthamoeba also acts an environmental host for many bacterial species including Legionella pneumophilia. Once internalised the bacteria live in an endosymbiotic relationship. However, it is unknown if the presence of an endosymbiont has any affect upon the pathogenicity of Acanthamoeba and the prognosis of the disease in the patient.

In this project the candidate will obtain fresh clinical isolates of Acanthamoeba which will then be screened to determine their drug sensitivity profile against selected ophthalmic agents. The species of the Acanthamoeba and any internalised endosymbionts will then be identified using appropriate genetic techniques. This overall aim of the study is to evaluate the relationship between Acanthamoeba genotype and the presence of endosymbionts and to compare this with visual outcome, disease severity, treatment and treatment response in patients with AK.

Applicants should have a recognized Honours or Masters degree with a 2.1 or equivalent in Microbiology, Biomedical Science or a related field. Prior experience is desirable but the successful candidate will be trained in a range of microbiology and genetic techniques. Laboratory work will be undertaken within the University of Wolverhampton’s Science Centre, the Rosalind Franklin building, which houses a broad range of state-of-the-art research facilities suitable for undertaking this multidisciplinary project.

Further details can be obtained via direct email to ([Email Address Removed]).

Funding Notes

Applications are welcomed at any time from self-funded students that are suitably qualified and highly motivated.


Heaselgrave W, Hamad A, Coles S, Hau S. (2019). In Vitro Evaluation of the Inhibitory Effect of Topical Ophthalmic Agents on Acanthamoeba Viability. Transl Vis Sci Technol. 2019 Sep 25;8(5):17
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