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Transmission Dynamics of Novel Zoonotic Hybrid Schistosomes in Africa

Principal Supervisor: Professor Joanne P. Webster (Royal Veterinary College, University of London)

Co-Supervisor: Dr James Rudge (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)

Schistosomiasis is a Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) of profound medical and veterinary importance across many parts of the world, with the greatest burden within sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).  Anthropogenic changes in selective pressures following, for instance, new dam constructions/irrigation systems and/or altered agricultural practices, combined with increased mass drug administration (MDA) programmes, may all impact the availability of suitable definitive and intermediate hosts for schistosomes, and hence potential for both intra- and inter-specific interactions within such hosts. Recent research has revealed that novel zoonotic hybrid schistosome species can evolve and establish as a consequence, with subsequent changes in parasite life history traits, transmission potential, host range, morbidity profiles and intervention success.  Planning appropriate control strategies requires an understanding of the relative contributions of different host species to parasite persistence and transmission, and how these may change following different control regimens.

This doctoral research project aims to help understand the epidemiology, evolution and potential control of novel zoonotic schistosomes occurring through the viable hybridisation of human and animal schistosome species.  Focusing within Niger and Senegal, this multidisciplinary projects incorporates data gathered from tropical parasitological field work and molecular diagnostics into novel multi-host mathematical model development and optomisation.  The results obtained will be of substantial theoretical and applied importance for understanding multi-host disease transmission dynamics and control.

Candidate requirements

The selected candidate will require a strong undergraduate degree (1st class honours or 2.1) in a biological sciences, statistics, mathematics or related subject or clinical/veterinary medicine degree, together with an interest in public/global health. A Master's degree in epidemiology or related subject is also desirable.  Ideally the student will also be interested in field work within sub-Saharan African and laboratory molecular diagnostics. The student will receive full specific training in field parasitology and mathematical modelling, both directly through his/her supervisors and though participation on related short-courses and MSc modules at each institution. The strong “One Health”-related approach of this project fits perfectly within, and will be enhanced by collaboration between RVC and LSHTM, which will respectively provide strong veterinary and human health-related areas of expertise. The student will further benefit through interactions and affiliations both with inter-collegiate working groups (e.g. the Emerging and Zoonotic Disease Working Group, chaired by LIDC), and institution-specific centres (e.g. the Centre for Mathematical for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases at LSHTM) and the London Centre for Neglected Tropical Diseases (LCNTDR) across ICL, LSHTM, RVC and NHM.

The student's research will contribute to the major push to control and potentially eliminate schistosomiasis as a public health problem as recently put forward in the WHO NTD roadmap. The student, with close supervisory support from both JPW and JWR, will present their work at national and international conferences and publish within high impact, open access wherever possible, peer-reviewed journals.  The results will be fed directly back into international and national policy, including WHO guidelines and national control progamme implementation.  Finally the student, together with his/her supervisors, will contine to play a major role in dissemination of this work within the public understanding of science framework.

Key references


  • Webster, J.P., Molyneux, D. & Hotez, P.J. & Fenwick, A. (2014).  The contribution of mass drug administration to global health – past, present and future.  Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London Series B (Biological Sciences). IF 6.230
  • Rudge, J.W., Webster, J.P., Lu, D-B., Wang, T-P., Fang, G-R., Basáñez, M-G. (2013). Identifying host species driving transmission of schistosomiasis japonica, a multi-host parasite system, in China.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.  110. 11457-11462.  IF 9.737
  • Webster, B.L., Diaw, O.T., Seye, M.M., Webster, J.P. & Rollinson, D. (2013).  Introgressive hybridization of Schistosoma haematobium group species in Senegal: species barrier break down between ruminant and human schistosomes.   PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. 7(4): e2110. IF 4.569
  • Rudge, J.W., Lu, D-B, Feng, G-W, Wang, T-P, Basáñez, M-G & Webster, J.P. (2009).   Parasite genetic differentiation by habitat type and host species: molecular epidemiology of Schistosoma japonicum in hilly and marshland areas of Anhui Province, China. Molecular Ecology.  18:2134-2147. IF 6.275
  • Woolhouse, M.E.J., Webster, J.P., Domingo, E., Charlesworth, B. & Levin, B.R.  (2002)  Biological and biomedical implications of the coevolution of pathogens and their hosts.  Nature Genetics. 32 (4), 569-577.   IF 35.209


Further details about the project may be obtained from:

Principal Supervisor
Professor Joanne P. Webster
Department of Pathology and Pathogen Biology 
Centre for Emerging, Endemic and Exotic Diseases (CEEED)
Royal Veterinary College, University of London, AL9 7TA, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1707666357

Dr James Rudge
Dept. of Global Health and Development
+66 2 354 6044L

Further information about PhDs at the RVC is available from:

Application forms and details about how to apply are available from:

Mrs Carole Tilsley
Research Degrees Admissions Officer
Graduate Schools
Royal Veterinary College
Tel no: 44 (0) 20 7468 5134

There are a number of documents which you will need to upload to your UKPass application form:

  • CV
  • A personal statement explaining why you would like to undertake the project you are applying for
  • An electronic copy of your degree certificate(s)
  • A transcript of your degree(s) - this must be a certified translation if the original was not issued in English.
  • 2 confidential references. Please note that it is your responsibility to contact your referees and arrange for references to be provided. These should be on letter headed paper, contain the signature of the referee and should be scanned and uploaded with your UKPASS application. These can also be submitted separately to Further information is available on our website.

Closing date for applications is Monday 9 February 2015