The Barcelona Institute for Global Health, ISGlobal, is the fruit of an innovative alliance between academic, government, and philanthropic institutions to contribute to the efforts undertaken by the international community to address the challenges in global health.
ISGlobal is looking for an enthusiastic, organized and autonomous PhD student who is interested in applying for a grant which will be opned during the following months (AGAUR and others) to develop the PhD project in the context of studies on molecular mechanisms involved in asymptomatic malaria and pregnancy malaria.
1. Pregnancy malaria: Pregnant women are sensitive to changes in Plasmodium falciparum transmission and constitute a promising sentinel group to track malaria trends in the community. As antenatal clinics (ANC) are widely distributed and used in sub-Saharan Africa, routine malaria detection at first visit can provide a stable indicator of malaria transmission, including asymptomatic infections. Our aim is to investigate multiple scales of P. falciparum dynamics (from genes to spatial-temporal patterns) in pregnant women at first ANC contact, with the ultimate goal of assessing their value as malaria sensors to guide control and elimination. To evaluate this new concept, we will apply ground-breaking epidemiological and molecular approaches targeting parasite and host to develop an integrated toolkit that can derive precise metrics of malaria transmission from pregnant women. We will pioneer the use of a) a novel pregnancy-specific serology to amplify signals of previous malaria exposure, b) next generation molecular approaches to assess the genetics of infecting parasites and c) a cutting-edge tolerance framework to identify host pathways that can be targeted for malaria vulnerability assessments. We will apply this toolkit in Southern Mozambique to compare transmission at ANCs with other population-level metrics (schoolchildren and clinical malaria at hospitals). In a unique elimination setting, we will develop methods to assess at ANCs the impact of intervention campaigns, to identify residual foci of infections and to flag parasite adaptations that can endanger elimination efforts. Finally, we will integrate host and parasite data at ANC in mathematical models to reconstruct and predict general population transmission. Understanding the biology of malaria infection at ANCs and its relationship with other measures of transmission can signify an enormous breakthrough for sustainable and actionable early warning systems that can accelerate efforts aiming to interrupt malaria transmission.
2. Asymptomatic malaria: As asymptomatic Plasmodium falciparum (Pf) infections course without symptoms, they do not come to clinical attention, thus representing a hidden source of parasite transmission that can compromise elimination efforts. However, there is no consensus on the best strategy to deal with this asymptomatic reservoir, partly due to the lack of evidence on its dynamics, transmissibility and biological mechanisms. Preliminary results in Mozambique show that asymptomatically-infected adults can progress to fever (10%), clear the infection (10%) and stabilize at low-density (50%) or high-density (20%) parasitemias, being the later a potential super-spreader group that may sustain transmission. We hypothesize that the interplay between parasite (virulence) and host (immune resistance and tolerance) factors drives these four main trajectories. With the overarching goal of developing new evidence-based approaches to tackle asymptomatic carriers in various phases of malaria elimination, we aim to understand the biology underlying the carriage over disease of Pf infection. We will describe clinical and parasitological trajectories of asymptomatic Mozambican adults. We will then identify biological pathways associated with the progression of Pf asymptomatic infections through an interactive transcriptomic and metabolomic network analysis of hosts and Pf parasites. Finally, we will apply system biology approaches to identify biomarkers that can predict the progression of asymptomatic infections and intervention points for host-directed therapies and parasitological clearance. Results of this study will provide programmatic information about the relevance of asymptomatic carriers as a barrier for malaria elimination and identify key molecules to predict where and when asymptomatic infections are most likely to occur.
Barcelona - Campus Clínic
Main duties and tasks
- Apply for PhD grants.
- Develop parasitological and molecular techniques at ISGlobal’s laboratory.
- Analyse and prepare manuscripts presenting results obtained during the research.
- Develop a thesis on the main topic of the project.
- Degree in Biotechnology, Biochemistry, Biology or similar areas.
- Good English level
- Self-motivation, eagerness to grow professionally and commitment to self-development
- Basic training in lab work
- Ability to establish and maintain a good working relationship with people of different national and cultural backgrounds.
- Computer skills (Windows, Microsoft Office, Statistics and BioInformatics) are also of value.
- The selected candidate will need to apply for a pre-doctoral fellowship. For this reason, only candidates with average degree qualifications above 2.2 in the 0-4 scale will be considered.
How to apply
Applicants must fill in the request form and attach the CV and a cover letter including the following Reference Code Position: PhD_Molecular_Mal. Each document must include the candidate name and surname.
Only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.
If you have any question, please, send us your query to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In ISGlobal we are committed to maintaining and developing a work environment in which the values and principles of our organization are respected and equal opportunities between women and men be promoted in each of the areas in which we operate, not tolerating discrimination based on criteria such as age, sex, marital status, race, ethnicity, disabilities, political leanings, religion or sexual orientation.