Researcher Spotlight : Elías Kabbas Piñango

Published: 7 May 2019

Ellen Hughes puts first year PhD student Elías Kabbas Piñango under the spotlight to find out more about his research into schistosomiasis diagnostics...

Tell us about your background
In 2015 I graduated from Universitat Politécnica de València, Spain with a BSc in Biotechnology. After graduating, I worked there as a research assistant and conducted research on volatile organic compounds released from tomato plants during bacterial infections. In 2017 I obtained an MSc in Tropical Diseases from the Universidad de Salamanca. For my master’s thesis I tested ‌the effectiveness of transcriptome-derived peptide molecules as potential vaccine candidates for schistosomiasis.

Elias Pinango pic 02What can you tell us about your PhD research?
The aim of my PhD is to develop a device capable of detecting a specific schistosome-related antigen, the circulating anodic antigen (CAA), with high sensitivity. The device will be based on a lateral flow immunoassay. A device like this would help detect early and low intensity infections and could also be used in areas where mass drug administration programs are carried out to monitor treatment efficacy. We aim for the point-of-care device to be affordable and easy to read for healthcare professionals with varying levels of training or potentially for patients. For this purpose, I will be working jointly with the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands and the French company NG Biotech.
We hope this will contribute to improving the current diagnostic methods for schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease affecting more than 240 million people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Why did you decide to do your PhD in IBACHM/UofG?
I started becoming interested in infectious diseases – and especially Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) – towards the end of my undergrad and I decided to do an MSc in Tropical Diseases. During my MSc I realised that studying NTDs such as schistosomiasis must be approached by different disciplines.
The topic of my project, combined with working in an interdisciplinary group and the possibility to undertake fieldwork made it easy for me to decide to apply for this PhD.

What do you find most interesting about your work?
I am excited to contribute to developing a device that in the future could be used as an affordable and useful point-of-care diagnostic tool to fight one of the most important NTDs.

What has been the most positive aspect so far?
My first fieldwork trip to Uganda last February. It was a great opportunity to learn how our lab group and the Vector Control Division of the Ministry of Health of Uganda work together towards the same goal of reducing Schistosoma infection. I learned different diagnostic techniques, and the experience made me understand better what the needs in NTDs diagnostics are.

What has been the most challenging aspect so far?
I think the most difficult aspect will be to coordinate my PhD project in different places. In addition to the fieldwork in Uganda, I will be spending time carrying out work in the Netherlands and France. Putting all the knowledge and work together will be challenging, but I am looking forward to an enriching experience.Elias Pinango pic 03

What advice would you give to anyone doing or considering PhD?
Think before choosing a PhD, it will be a long and hard way and you must be passionate about the topic. It might take you a while to know what you’re interested in, but it will be worth it. Ask your supervisors and colleagues for advice and take all the learning opportunities you can. Work hard but also make sure you enjoy your spare time.

Tell us about your plans for the future
I just started my PhD so I’m not sure yet about my future post-PhD, but apart from research, I would also like to be involved in Research & Development, knowledge exchange and health policy, especially in LMICs.

First published: 7 May 2019