Our work centers on basic RNA and infection biology, with a focus on small RNAs, extracellular vesicles and RNA trafficking in host-pathogen systems. We have developed many collaborations over the last 7 years to carry this out through multidisciplinary approaches, and to translate our basic findings towards new strategies for treating and controlling virus and parasite infections. We work closely with Cei Abreu-Goodger’s lab for computational analyses of small RNAs and their targets (the Abreu-Goodger lab is re-locating to Edinburgh in 2021).
We have found specific small RNAs whose abundance levels impact the ability of viruses to replicate and spread and we are interrogating the therapeutic mechanisms of these RNAs in respiratory virus infections through industry collaboration. This has also involved collaboration with Prof. Jurgen Schwarze and Prof. Bernadette Dutia at the University of Edinburgh.
Our (now core) work on parasitic nematodes started in 2010 as a small side project in collaboration with Prof Rick Maizels. This has obviously grown and we maintain a strong collaboration with Rick Maizels’ lab for the functional analysis and vaccine efficacy of extracellular vesicles in helminths. We also collaborate with Dr. Maria Duque-Correa at the Sanger Institute who is an expert on using organoids to study host-pathogen interactions. We also have strong links with Mark Blaxter’s lab for nematode genomics. We started a collaboration with Amy Pedersen in 2019 to understand the role of small RNAs in enabling nematodes to respond to changes in the environment in wild mice (supported by the Leverhulme Trust) and to compare the closely related sister species H.polygyrus and H.bakeri. This collaboration also involves Dr. Darren Obbard, who brings population genetics expertise and keeps us straight from an evolutionary perspective. We have shared PhD students with immunologists studying the roles of small RNAs in specific cell populations and the functional properties of RISCs during T cell activation with Rose Zamoyska.
In 2014 we started a collaboration with Julie Claycomb (as well as Cei Abreu-Goodger) and to explore the function and evolution of the extracellular nematode Argonaute protein in free-living and parasitic nematodes with a Young Investigators Award (2014-2018) from the Human Frontiers in Science program.
We have also extended the helminth extracellular RNA studies towards analysis of their biomarker potential in filarial infection. This has involved many collaborators in the UK, Germany, Cameroon and USA, including Ken Pfarr, Achim Hoerauf, Ben Makepeace, Sam Wanji and microRNA diagnostic companies.
We are now leading or supporting a range of extracellular RNA studies to understand their diagnostic capacity and build foundational knowledge on exRNA functions in human and animal diseases. Contact Amy Buck for more information.