School of Health and Life Sciences

Parasitology/immunology/assay development

Campus: Mt Helen

Discipline: Veterinary 

Key words: parasites, vaccines, immune system, worms, equines, ovines

Supervisor(s): Dr Sarah Preston / A/Prof David Piedrafita

Contact details:

Email: sj.preston@federation.edu.au

Phone (optional): 0353276880

Brief Supervisor Bio

I have a passion for research and education in the control of infectious diseases in agricultural animals and this is largely driven by my background growing up in a rural setting on a sheep/cattle farm. I received my science qualifications (B.Sci Honours) at Monash University and followed on with a PhD investigating the control of parasitic worm infections in sheep using immune markers of parasitic resistance. From 2014-2016 I worked at the Faculty of Veterinary and Agriculture Sciences at the University of Melbourne as a postdoctoral researcher in the area of drug discovery for parasitic diseases. I am now looking forward to my new career direction as a lecturer for the Bachelor of Veterinary and wildlife Sciences at Federation University whilst still pursuing research in the area of worm control for agricultural animals.

Project title: Drug discovery project for new anthelmintics against parasitic helminths

Project Description

Due to major problems with drug resistance in parasitic nematodes of animals and the concern of this occurring in humans, there is a need to develop new anthelmintics via genomic-guided and/or repurposing approaches. Recently there has been a drive for public-private partnerships between academia and industry to accelerate to drug discovery pipeline. Many industries with and without philanthropic support are donating small to large chemical compound libraries to academics to screen against parasitic organisms still causing substantial economic and health burden in third world countries. This project will involve using a well-established, practical and cost-effective whole-organism assay for the in vitro-screening of compound libraries to identify novel compound with activity against parasitic stages of the nematode Haemonchus contortus. Upon identification of the active compounds, the compound’s activity will be characterised using techniques such as motility and parasite development assays and fluorescent and scanning electron microscopy. This project will be performed in collaboration with the veterinary school at Melbourne University.

Project title: Development of a vaccine for scour worms in sheep

Project Description

Due to widespread drench resistance, new non-chemical control methods are required for sustainable parasite control in the red meat industry. This is particularly important for Trichostrongylus worms (scour worms) which cause weight loss and scouring. Molecular vaccines are a sustainable non-chemical control method. A vaccine (Barbervax) has recently been marketed for control of Barbers Pole worm, reviving the possibility of a vaccine for producers to use to control worms. This project will investigate whether a vaccine developed against Barbers Pole worm can protect sheep against other related worms such as Trichostrogylus species and Teladorsagia circumcincta. This project will be performed in collaboration with Latrobe University.

Project title: Understanding the effect of PPID on parasite burdens in horses

Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) is an endocrine condition affecting twenty percent of aged equines. PPID results in elevated cortisol levels causing immunosuppression and hence commonly suffer fatal infections and/or inflammatory conditions. Furthermore, immunosuppression may lead to increased parasite susceptibility. Research on PPID associated parasite burden is sparse. High worm burdens may manifest as weight loss, illness and colic. Colic presents as abdominal pain and can require surgery or euthanasia. This study aims to determine if equines with PPID have increased susceptibility to parasites. Resulting information may help devise new parasite treatment and management plans for PPID and healthy equines. This study will also investigate the function of immune cells in horses with PPID and compared to matched-age horses and whether decreased immune function relates to increased susceptibility to parasites. This project will be performed in collaboration with the veterinary school at Melbourne University.