Two PhD scholarships available at icipe to work on Schistosomiasis

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Two PhD scholarships available at icipe to work on Schistosomiasis

Closing date for applications: 02nd January 2017

Students

General Background

Schistosomiasis, a neglected tropical disease, is an acute and chronic parasitic disease caused by blood flukes (trematode worms) of the genus Schistosoma. Estimates show that at least 258 million people in 52 endemic countries required preventive treatment in 2014. Transmission occurs when people suffering from schistosomiasis contaminate freshwater sources with their excreta containing parasite eggs which hatch in water. People become infected when larval forms of the parasite – released by freshwater snails that present the intermediate hosts – penetrate the skin during contact with infested water. In the body, the larvae develop into adult schistosomes.  Adult worms live in the blood vessels where the females release eggs. Some of the eggs are passed out of the body in the faeces or urine to continue the parasite’s life-cycle. Others become trapped in body tissues, causing immune reactions and progressive damage to organs. The economic and health effects of schistosomiasis are considerable and the disease disables more than it kills. In children, schistosomiasis can cause anaemia, stunting and a reduced ability to learn, although the effects are usually reversible with treatment.

It is estimated that at least 90% of those requiring treatment for schistosomiasis live in Africa. Schistosomiasis is prevalent in Kenya especially in poor communities without access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. The control of schistosomiasis is based on large-scale treatment of at-risk population groups, access to safe water, improved sanitation, hygiene education and snail control.

Control of the host snail populations is an important part in the fight against schistosomiasis and a clear understanding of the snails’ ecology is required to predict its distribution and vectorial capacity. The host snails belong to the phylum mollusca and are characterised by their relative insensitivity to most agricultural pesticides. Pesticide pollution in the aquatic habitats of the host snail might be a consequence from runoff from agricultural fields following heavy rainfalls. It is hypothesized that pesticide pollution may favour the development of host snails through the depletion of antagonistic macroinvertebrate species. Additionally, pesticides may affect the development of the trematodes in their intermediate hosts, and may reduce predators of the free-swimming trematode life stages, increasing the risk for schistosomiasis further.

icipe is offering 2 PhD projects, 1 working on ecological/parasitological research questions and 1 working on environmental chemistry research questions.

For more information on icipe go to http://www.icipe.org/

Project 1: Eco-toxicological investigations of freshwater pollution on the distribution and vector competence of Schistosoma host snails in freshwater streams in western Kenya

This projects aims to investigate the direct and indirect effects of pesticide pollution on the development of the hosts snails and trematodes along streams in western Kenya. This region is dominated by different forms of agriculture, and is endemic for schistosomiasis. During the project, changes in the abundance of host snails and in the composition of the macroinvertebrate community will be measured. Sensitivity of common taxa to different pesticides will be tested and the ratio of sensitive and insensitive taxa will be compared between polluted and non-polluted sites. Based on the identified changes in the community composition, it is the overall aim to develop a bio-indicator for the effects of pesticide pollution in tropical freshwater bodies. To further characterize the potential effects of pesticides on the risk of schistosomiasis infection, controlled microcosm experiments will be carried out.  These experiments serve to study the effects of pesticides on the development of trematodes within their host snails, and on the competitive and predator-prey relationships between the host snails and their common natural antagonists from the study area.

Applicant requirements specific for project 1: The successful applicant will hold an excellent Master’s degree with an ecological background and both coursework and research in the field of Natural Sciences or other field relevant to the PhD project. A background in limnology (identification of freshwater invertebrates) and/or working experience in schistosomiasis will be an added advantage.

Project 2: Exposure assessment of water and biota to pesticides and other pollutants in western Kenya

This projects aims to investigate the exposure of host snails as well as of competitors to pesticides and other potentially toxic chemicals. Chemical monitoring will include water samples from high and low abundance areas of snails and schistosomiasis using an innovative technology for large volume solid phase extraction (LVSPE) as well as body burdens of snails and competing invertebrates. Potentially relevant target chemicals will be selected by literature review and an extensive investigation on plant protection products and other chemicals applied in the investigated area. In addition to target analysis, non-target analysis will be performed in order to get a more holistic picture of the overall exposure to chemicals. While samples are extracted and prepared in Kenya as far as possible, chemical analysis will be performed using LC-HRMS/MS and GC-HRMS/MS both at icipe, Nairobi and the Helmholtz Centre of Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany. Following a multivariate statistical approach, contamination patterns in water and biota will be evaluated using a virtual effect-directed analysis (EDA) to identify chemical signals that contribute to the explanation of the abundance of schistosomiasis and the host snails.

Applicant requirements specific for project 2: The successful applicant will hold an excellent Master’s degree with both coursework and research in the field of Analytical Chemistry, Natural Sciences or other field relevant to the PhD project. Experience in practical instrumental analysis using LC- and GC-MS will be of advantage.

General requirements for applicants

Practical research experience from working on ecological or human health research projects at a University or Research Institute and a strong foundation in statistical analysis is desirable. The successful candidates will have excellent oral and written communication skills.

The project will have a large field component and only candidates should apply that can demonstrate that they enjoy long hours of field work in the hot sun of western Kenya, have an excellent approach to local communities, and have good improvisation and problem solving skill.  

Work place

The PhD positions are based at icipe’s Thomas Odhiambo Campus at Mbita, Homa Bay County, South Nyanza, Kenya. Some of the work will be implemented at KEMRI-Kisumu and Nairobi, icipe’s Duduville Campus in Nairobi and research visits might be scheduled to the laboratories in Leipzig, Germany.

Eligibility

The applicants must be Kenyan nationals. Qualified female candidates and candidates from less privileged regions or groups are especially encouraged to apply. The Master’s degree must have been completed less than ten years ago at the time of application. Preference will be given to applicants with a maximum age of 36 years (men) or 40 years (women) by 31st December 2016. Completed application form and accompanying supporting documents must be submitted latest by 02 January 2017.

Funding

The PhD projects are funded through a research grant from the German Research Foundation (DFG) and will be jointly supervised by scientists from icipe, KEMRI and Egerton University, Kenya and from the University of Aachen and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Leipzig, Germany. The scholarships will cover all costs of the PhD programme, including travel, living expenses, medical insurance, university fees and all research and training costs.

Timeline

3 year doctoral training by research;
start: February 2017, end: January 2020;

Successful candidates will develop a full proposal and register with a Kenyan university after they commence their PhD programme at icipe.

How to apply

Full instructions and online application: APPLICATION

Closing date for applications: 02nd January 2017

Questions

In case of any questions regarding the PhD positions or your application, kindly contact: Ms. Vivian Atieno, Acting Training Officer, Capacity Building and Institutional Development Programme, icipe, vatieno@icipe.org, Tel: +254 20 863 2272

We look forward to receiving your application.