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Cambridge Biosciences DTP PhD Programme


Department of Physics

Research theme: Bioscience for an integrated understanding of health


I have always been interested in infectious disease, particularly the mechanisms that pathogens use to infect the host at a cellular level and how we can try and find ways to stop them. I started working in Biophysics during my undergraduate degree at the University of Exeter, where I used microfluidics to investigate mechanisms driving persister and VBNC cells when exposed to antibiotic treatment. I enjoyed the multidisciplinary and collaborative approach despite not being a physicist, and this led me to the Cicuta Lab and the BBSRC DTP Programme, where I now study malaria parasite invasion using a combination of biological and physical approaches. I am most happy in my research when learning something new. 

It is important to have hobbies outside of the lab, especially for bad days where experiments go wrong! I enjoy knitting, sewing, and ceramics using the second hand pottery wheel in my shed, and am part of my College’s MCR women’s rowing team The Sirens. 


Project Title:

Using video microscopy and optical tweezers to investigate how the zoonotic malaria pathogen Plasmodium knowlesi attaches to and invades erythrocytes.

Project Summary:

With over 400,000 deaths per year, resistance to the front-line antimalarials emerging in Southeast Asia, and the new vaccine having only a partial efficacy (at best 36% in children aged 5-17 months) that wanes over time, it is crucial that malaria disease mechanisms are better understood in order to identify and prioritise new vaccine targets. The blood cycle stage of malaria is of particular interest, as this is the cause of all disease symptoms, including muscle pain, fever, and severe anaemia. During this stage, the Plasmodium parasite must invade erythrocytes, where it grows, divides and replicates, before egressing and reinvading in a 24 or 48 hour cycle. Without this stage, the obligate intracellular parasite would be unable to survive in the host. This is also the period where the parasite is present within the circulatory system without the protection of the host erythrocyte micro-environment and therefore exposed to the antibody-mediated immune system, making it an attractive target.  
Plasmodium knowlesi is unique among the malaria parasites as a primarily zoonotic species, its principal host being long-tailed macaques (where it results in a mild infection). However, it is a significant cause of human malaria in South East Asia, especially Malaysian Borneo, where it is the most common cause of clinical disease. Less is known about the more recently lab-adapted P. knowlesi than its more studied relative P. falciparum. Here, technologies including optical tweezers and live video imaging are employed to better understand the complexities of erythrocyte attachment and invasion in P. knowlesi. 

Teaching and Supervisions

Research supervision: 

Professor Pietro Cicuta

Staff Photo

Contact Details

Job Titles

PhD Student