Researcher Spotlight: Rachel Francoeur

Spotlight Article: Rachel FrancoeurPic of Rachel Francouer 01

This week, Elle Lindsay has put Rachel Francoeur under the spotlight. Rachel is a PhD student studying parasitology in relation to intestinal schistosomiasis, which she carries out in addition to her role as a research assistant within the institute. 

Can you tell us a little about your background?

This is my second career. I used to practice pharmaceutical patent litigation in Canada but my need to spend more time outdoors and have more diversity in my daily work had me seek a career change. I then obtained a BSc(honours) in zoology and biochemistry in my home country of Ireland. I worked in several zoos and public aquaria as an education officer focusing on conservation and animal welfare. I also spent a lot of time working at field research stations specialising in conservation of marine turtles in Greece and Italy. I then did further post graduate studies at the University of Edinburgh in Animal Welfare and Behaviour before I went to Stirling University to get a MSc in Aquatic Pathology. My interest in disease led me to apply for a Research Assistant position at UoG, my current role, and I was invited to do a PhD at the same time.

Pic of Rachel Francoeur 02What can you tell us about your PhD project?

I am looking at host factors influencing clearance and reinfection of Schistosoma mansoni. Despite a decade of mass drug administration (MDA) in Uganda, there continues to be certain ‘hot spots’ where the prevalence remains high. In fact, in the region I work in, the levels of schistosome infection in humans is higher than it was before MDA began.  We (those in our research group) want to know why and if there is anything that can be done to help eradicate this neglected tropical disease.

What is the focus of your research?

I am looking at several host factors that may influence parasite burden. Firstly, I am analysing the pharmacokinetics (absorption rates) of the treatment drug, praziquantel, in school aged children in a highly infected population to determine if there are differences in absorption of the drug between clearers and non-clearers, as well as those who are rapidly re-infected or those who have higher intensity burdens. I am also looking at differences in immune response to the parasites by comparing cytokine profiles before and after treatment as possible predictors of reinfection rates. Finally, I am examining co-factors that may contribute to infection intensities and clearance, such as co-infections with malaria or soil transmitted helminths.

Why did you decide to do your PhD in Glasgow?

I knew I wanted to live and work in a reasonably sized city and was quite hopeful that I could come to Glasgow. The atmosphere within our department (and the city) is wonderful and working in such an up-beat environment appealed to me. I looked into a few jobs/PhD’s elsewhere, but this role seemed to have all the aspects I was looking for: field work, lab work, writing and data analysis.

What do you find most interesting about your work?

Every day is different. I really like the diversity of how many different tasks the role requires. I am fascinated with pathology and how host systems interact with pathogens and get to learn something new every day.

What has been the most positive aspect so far?

I like that I have some freedom in developing the project. The outline and PhD proposal were quite flexible in how I carried out the work, so I have a lot of input into this project. I enjoy being able to be creative with the scientific process to find answers to unanswered questions.

Pic of Rachel Francoeur 03What has been the most challenging aspect so far?

Finding the equipment to process my pharmacokinetic samples is an ongoing challenge. I have collected a lot of blood samples which I have stored on FTA cards; however, finding an LC/MS machine to process them on is proving difficult. I have attempted to collaborate with other universities, but due to the amount of time required for processing and complexity of setting up the machinery to run the samples, I have not been successful at this point in locating a facility to process the pharmacokinetic samples.

What advice would you give to anyone doing or considering PhD?

Make sure it’s something you are passionate about. I really enjoy spending every day looking at host interactions with pathogens.   Time is really flying and I suspect if the work is not something you are passionate about it would not be such a pleasant experience.

Tell us about your future plans.

I would like to continue in research looking at impacts of disease on hosts.

First published: 12 June 2018