Mathematical modelling of parasitic disease

EU funded PhD studentships 2011-2014

Nematodes cause death and disease in humans and wildlife, and also adversely affect farm animal health and welfare. Existing drug treatments are losing efficacy due to the development of resistance in the parasites. Our aim is to develop a comprehensive, coherent and consistent understanding of the interaction between parasite and host – with a focus on the sheep nematode Teladorsagia circumcincta – and use this understanding to develop effective and sustainable methods of parasite control. The development of mathematical models is a key part of this process.

The Boyd Orr Centre brings together researchers from a diverse range of disciplines with a common interest in quantifying, modelling, and describing ecological and epidemiological processes. You will join a team of researchers with expertise in parasitology, immunology, genetics, quantitative epidemiology, informatics, mathematics and statistics. The research is funded by a Marie-Curie Initial Training Network grant and includes a generous stipend, comprehensive training and foreign travel. The research is based at Glasgow University Veterinary School which is one of the world's leading veterinary schools with particular strengths in veterinary parasitology and modelling of veterinary diseases.

Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and is an ideal home for those who wish to sample the attractions of a vibrant, modern city. It is also a gateway to the Western Highlands and appeals to those attracted by the outdoor life.

Louise Matthews and Mike Stear – Comparative mathematical models of selection for parasite resistance

Unlike selective breeding for production traits, selective breeding for disease resistance changes the environment. Culling heavily infected animals reduces the number of infective larvae that can infect other hosts. Therefore selective breeding has both genetic and environmental benefits. Predicting the outcome of selection therefore requires both genetic theory and epidemiological modelling. We are currently working on parasite infections in sheep, cattle, rabbits and salmon. This project will develop and extend our existing mathematical models to mimic natural and deliberate selection in the four species. A comparison of the species-specific models will reveal the essential features that are common to different host-parasite systems and help optimise selective breeding in the relevant industries.

This studentship was carried out by Thorsten Stefan.

Mike Stear and Louise Matthews – Modelling the immune response to nematode infections.

Protection against nematode infection involves immune responses that reduce nematode establishment in the host, slow parasite development and reduce fecundity. The specificity and intensity of the immune response varies among individuals and is influenced by variation in exposure, variation in nutrition and genetic variation. Control methods that reduce the intensity of infection could compromise the development of the immune response. This project predicted the efficacy of control methods by developing mathematical models that capture the development of immunity and individual variation in response to infection.

This studentship was carried out by Joaquin Prada Jimenez De Cisneros.