Researcher Spotlight : Lauren Carruthers
Tell us about your background.
I graduated with a BSc Hons in Parasitology from the University of Glasgow and then went on to work as a research technician investigating Diminazene resistance in trypanosomes and the role of lipids in trypanosome cytokinesis. I began my PhD in February 2017.
Alongside my work, I have also enjoyed becoming involved with public engagement activities to teach others about parasitology and my research. I’ve written a few blogs, helped at public engagement events and have recently developed a game called “Poop Pondering” to teach people about the soil transmitted helminths, schistosomiasis, and the research of Lamberton Lab.
What can you tell us about your PhD?
My research focuses on the impact gut bacteria may have during infection and treatment of Schistosoma mansoni parasites in the context of the SCHISTO-PERSIST project led by my supervisor Dr Poppy Lamberton. I am comparing the bacterial composition of the stool from individuals from a rural Ugandan community, with high and low schistosome infection intensities. I will explore how these bacterial structures change post-treatment with the anti-schistosomal drug Praziquantel. The simpler explanation is that my PhD involves working with and analysing a lot of poo!
What do you find most interesting about your work?
Being passionate about parasites, I’ve really enjoyed visiting Uganda to undertake fieldwork. It has helped me to understand the problems associated with controlling schistosomiasis and other diseases in the context of the communities living with them. Often what seems like a simple solution to controlling disease in theory is not possible in practice due to the complexity of the situation in rural Uganda. My lab group is thus integrating different aspects of research (from engineering to anthropology) to try and learn about how we can best improve schistosomiasis control in these communities; it is really interesting to see the results and discussions that come from our work.
What has been the most challenging aspect so far?
Bioinformatics, modelling and statistics! There are so many ways of interpreting data and everyone has so many ideas. It is very easy to generate lots of numerical data, but trying to decipher how the data emerged in order to explain it in a biological context and make sure it is relevant to my data can feel impossible... I’ve been down a lot of rabbit holes but will hopefully emerge from the rabbit warren soon.
Tell us about your plans for the future.
At the moment I am finishing up a pilot study looking at the best ways to store stool for microbiome analysis in the fieldwork climate of Uganda. Once finished, I’ll be delving into the main dataset of my PhD: I’m just waiting for the fourth and final dataset to be sequenced, which should be anytime soon! A lot of data analyses lie ahead...
First published: 25 January 2019