Ms Victoria Austin

PhD Student

During her undergraduate degree at the University of Liverpool/Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Victoria worked with Dr Rod Dillon on the biology of Phlebotomine sandflies. She then returned to the University of Liverpool for her Masters of Research degree in Host-Parasite Biology, with a research project investigating the in-host population dynamics of entomopathogenic (“insect killing”) nematodes.  After graduating in 2012, Victoria joined the Acosta-Serrano research group at LSTM as Tsetse Insectary Technician, where she managed the largest colony of tsetse in the UK and provided research support to the group of vector biologists and parasitologists.  Following her time at LSTM, Victoria then spent two years at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) working on the behaviour and chemical ecology of Plasmodium falciparum-infected mosquitoes, using gas chromatography, electroantennography (EAG) and wind-tunnel behavioural assays.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 1 - Anopheles gambiae antennae mounted on electrodes for electroantenography (EAG) experiments. Figure 2 - Plasmodium falciparum oocysts on an Anopheles gambiae mosquito midgut.

Figure 3 - Plasmodium berghei sporozoites released from a ruptured mosquito salivary gland.

In 2015, I started a PhD at LSTM and am now working in the Acosta Serrano Group, primarily on the host antibodies that are produced in response to a parasitic infection (Leishmania sp.) in order to develop a diagnostic tool that can be used to detect cutaneous leishmaniasis infection.

PhD Project: Glycoimmunology of Old World Cutaneous Leishmaniasis (CL).
Investigating the role that anti-α-Gal antibodies (anti-Gal) have in Leishmania-human host interactions.
My research is focussed on the interactions between the human immune system and the sugar residues expressed on the surface of Leishmania parasites, in particular the anti-α-Gal (anti-Gal) antibody, which recognises glycans with terminal α-galactosyl (αGal) residues. The specificity of anti-Gal to the αGal terminating glycans expressed by Leishmania parasites is currently unknown. I want to use this antibody response to develop an antibody-based diagnostic tool. Identification of the epitopes recognised by anti-Gal could allow for the development of a rapid and inexpensive test for CL diagnosis, able to distinguish between different Leishmania species.

 Figure 4 – Cartoon depicting the Leishmania parasite surface glycocalyx, containing α-galactosylated glycoconjugates recognised by human anti-α-Gal antibodies.

 

 Figure 5 - Phlebotomus sergenti, the sandfly vector of Leishmania tropica*.

*Photo used with author’s permission

Figure 6 – My colleagues and I at the University of Texas, El Paso (left). Column purfication of anti-Gal from serum using affitnity chromatography (middle). Bradford assay to determine antibody concentration in samples (right).  The darker the purple, the higher the antibody concentration.

 

 

Figure 7 - Filming of "The Secret Life of Midges". Top and bottom left - examining the midge under a microscope. Right – testing individual attractiveness to hundreds of midges.

Public engagement is a strong interest of mine, having been a STEM Ambassador for 3 years and particularly focusing on involvement in science by girls.

I have lead career events, delivered talks on academic research and given practical sessions on insect and parasite identification to secondary school children, as well as participated in events for the general public and younger school children.

I manage the social media portfolio for the Acosta-Serrano group through Twitter (@kinetobites) and am keen to further develop the online presence of research.

In 2015, I was involved in the filming of BBC Two Scotland documentary “The Secret Life of Midges”, which combined my expertise in entomology and host-seeking behaviour of blood-feeding insects with my interests in science communication.

 

 

This summer (June – August 2016) I will attend the Biology of Parasitism: Modern Approaches at the Marine Biological Laboratory workshop in Woods Hole, MA on a full scholarship from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Endowment and the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Professional Memberships
Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
British Society of Parasitology