Researcher wins five-year Wellcome Trust and Royal Society Henry Dale Fellowship
Dr Claire Turner, research fellow in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology and the Florey Institute has been awarded the Wellcome Trust and Royal Society Henry Dale Fellowship.
This prestigious award will fund Dr Turner's research for five years. Dr Turner will be continuing her work on the human pathogen Streptococcus pyogenes, also known as group A Streptococcus. This pathogen causes tonsillitis and skin infections but also severe and potentially lethal infections such as necrotising fasciitis (‘flesh-eating disease’). One of the major primary infection sites for S. pyogenes is the human tonsil but we are limited in our knowledge of the host:pathogen interactions at this site due to the lack of infection models we can use in the laboratory.
On winning her fellowship, Dr Turner shared, ‘Streptococcus pyogenes is specifically a human pathogen so the ability to use human models of infection is a rare and invaluable opportunity. It is such an exciting prospect to actually be able to determine how Streptococcus pyogenes interacts with human tonsil and establishes disease. This is the site where genetic exchange occurs and new variants arise and are selected for yet we know relatively little about it. I am thrilled to have been awarded this fellowship that will allow me to establish my research group and develop these models of infection to answer important scientific questions about streptococcal disease.’
For this fellowship, Dr Turner will be collaborating with Dr Vanessa Hearnden (Department of Materials Science and Engineering) and Dr Craig Murdoch (School of Clinical Dentistry) who have been developing 3D tissue engineered models of human tonsil (Grayson et al. J Tissue Eng Regen Med. 2017). Human tonsil tissue is obtained through routine tonsillectomies, then cultured and reconstructed into the natural complex 3D structure in order to be used in the laboratory. Dr Turner will develop this model for streptococcal infection to determine the interactions of S. pyogenes with human tonsil to understand the important process of infection.
As part of her work in the department, Dr Turner recently identified that major genetic changes can occur within certain genotypes of S. pyogenes resulting in emergent variants that are more successful than previous variants. This can lead to increases in disease prevalence but we don’t yet have a clear understanding of how these genetic changes occur or how they drive the success of new variants over their predecessors. It seems likely that primary infection sites such as the tonsil are key to success of the new variants and by using the human tonsil models of infection she will go on to explore this further.
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