PhD Student(s) Sought for Project Work at Sichuan University, West China Medical School (for September 2008)

A graduate student (post-MSc) is now being sought to work at the State Key Laboratory of Biotherapy in Chengdu (Sichuan China). The student would be registered for a degree at Sichuan University. The student will be required to undertake multidisciplinary primary research designed to understand better the transmission biology of Schistosoma japonicum in China with the aim to design more effective disease control strategies. This is an informal advertisement because the University’s official vacancies page does not allow full project details to be posted.

The student will follow the project outlines and objectives provided by the principal investigator (PI); the results will be jointly published in international journals. The research will be supervised by the PI who is Dr Stephen Attwood, a scientist now working at the State Key Laboratory, previously having worked for 10 years at the Division of Biomedical Sciences in The Natural History Museum, London.

Schistosomiasis is a parasitic disease transmitted by certain freshwater snail species (intermediate hosts); the disease is the result of infection by species of Schistosoma (Trematoda: Digenea). Schistosomiasis infects over 200 million people world wide and can cause serious illness. People become infected when contacting water in which these snails live. In China schistosomiasis is caused by Schistosoma japonicum and is transmitted by snails belonging to the Oncomelania hupensis (Caenogastropoda: Pomatiopsidae) sub-species complex.

WHO (1999) figures reveal that in spite of 45 years of snail and disease control Schistosoma japonicum still infects over 850,000 people and 100,000 cattle in China. Clearly, schistosomiasis eradication is difficult and it is vital that we understand the processes of disease dispersal and transmission. Schistosoma japonicum causes a true zoonosis, utilizing a range of mammals as definitive host (including humans); however, there is much greater intermediate host specificity, with infection restricted to Oncomelania hupensis snails at the sub-specific or even strain level. S. japonicum (and Oncomelania hupensis) is common across the Yangtze Plain of China and causes severe public health problems.

The student will pursue research under one of the following projects; these projects are all interrelated and to some degree share samples, resources and data. The first year will involve pilot studies which will shape and define the final main projects in the second year and onwards. The exact number, scale and final design of the projects will depend on the availability of suitable students and funding.

1. To use population genetics (DNA-sequence based) to estimate population dynamic parameters for, and levels of gene flow among, S. japonicum populations from different definitive host groups at transmission foci in Sichuan Province. The aim is to determine the importance of different hosts as reservoirs of infection that may reduce the efficacy of disease control efforts at the human population level.

2. To use population genetic analysis of DNA sequence data for S. japonicum populations across China to study a. The effectiveness of disease control in areas of prolonged intervention, b. the emergence of new foci of disease transmission.

3. To use microarray based techniques to study differential gene expression in S. japonicum compatible and resistant strains of Oncomelania hupensis. Also, to perform a study as in 2 (above) for snail control assessment.

4. To use RS GIS to predict potential foci of disease transmission in remote and unsurveyed areas of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. This would involve collaboration with researchers in Shanghai and Sussex University in the UK.

Selection criteria
Students chosen will:

- Receive research training in phylogenetic and population genetic analysis of DNA sequcence data, which can be applied to any organism, pathogen or disease. The incumbent of project 4 will also receive training in RS GIS analysis.

-Receive high quality training in research-related skills (presentation, writing, running a research project, etc.)

-Be introduced to a network of researchers across China and Europe involved in the fields of parasitology, bioinformatics, and GIS / modelling.

-There is a good chance of some research experience overseas (UK), especially if the student proves to be a good worker.

- Research teaching methods and laboratory practice may follow the European model; this may be useful experience for any student hoping for a post-doctoral position in Europe

The applicants should satisfy the following criteria:

- Show enthusiasm, a sincere attitude to research, have adequate pre-training, interest in participating in a multidisciplinary research team and eagerness for bridging between research disciplines, and be willing and able to work in the field occasionally (long walks in rural and mountain areas may be involved for some of the projects, when working with local teams e.g. local CDC officers).

- The student must satisfy the general entry requirements of Sichuan University for registration.

- The student must be a native Chinese speaker. These opportunities are intended for Chinese Nationals.

- The student must have a good level of English language comprehension (both written and spoken) ideally CET 6 or better.

- The student should have a relaxed and patient nature, the laboratory work can sometimes involve fine and delicate work. A relaxed commonsense approach is required.

- A student wishing to register for a Masters degree will only be considered if extensive or specialized relevant experience can be proven.

Address of work place:
State Key Laboratory of Biotherapy, West China Hospital, West China Medical School, Sichuan University, Chengdu 610041, PR China

Application procedure:
Formal applications must be made directly to the university. The project title “The transmission biology of Schistosoma japonicum in China” is listed on the University’s web site.

However, any applicant who intends to apply can also send their resumé and a statement detailing why they would like to apply, and how their skills and past experience are relevant to the application to Prof. Stephen Attwood at