DEPLOY: Diagnostics to Empower Pathogen-detection in a LOw-income country.

Team DEPLOY seeks to develop and deploy innovative field diagnostic solutions that empower low and middle-income countries (LMICs) to combat infectious diseases. This team will develop modular field system, capable of utilising novel sampling technology and pathogen identification techniques, initially targeting WHO Global Priority Diseases, but expandable to other emerging health threats. Packages will aim to be cost-effective, portable and broadly deployable, incorporating basic serological assays (ELISA), quantitative PCR and portable sequencing technology, basic microbiology and microscopy, with minimal dependence on power or cold-chain considerations, which often limit the accessibility to technology in developing countries. The team will also develop training and awareness packages about the risks of disease and the benefits of vaccination, delivered from and included in the platform. Within the pilot phase of this project, DEPLOY is actively seeking to partner with government and non-government institutions and healthcare professionals in Sierra Leone to prioritise diagnostic solutions and co-create training and educational content.

The technologies we use in DEPLOY are state-of-the-art mobile diagnostic tools, capable of testing for a wide range of disease, even in the absence of electricity or other infrastructure. These include a portable isolator, to allow safe handling of pathogens, quantitative and standard PCR units, ELISA plate reader for serology, microscopy and basic microbiology incubators, as well as next-generation sequencing technology through the Oxford Nanopore Technology minION platform. All modules can be powered by solar or battery power, and cold-chain is maintained using portable technology from Peli Biothermal. Together, these provide a broad spectrum diagnostic platform for use, even in the harshest conditions.

The Team

DEPLOY is a project that has been developed by a group of postdoctoral researchers selected for the Borysiewicz Fellowship at the University of Cambridge. The team work across the biomedical sciences, from cancer research and infectious diseases, to the treatment of neurological disorders.

Dr Luke Meredith

I am a post-doctoral research fellow based at the University of Cambridge, working as a molecular virologist with Prof. Ian Goodfellow.

In 2015, I joined the West African Ebola outbreak response in Sierra Leone, initially as part of the PHE diagnostic response, then subsequently as part of a clinical research team evaluating diagnostic tests. I then spent several months running the Ebola Outbreak Sequencing Service, providing real-time sequencing support to the response, enabling rapid characterisation of EVD cases during the epidemic.

Following the epidemic, I helped establish the University of Makeni Infectious Disease Research Laboratory, a legacy teaching and research laboratory which facilitates research projects monitoring diversity and prevalence of infectious disease in and around Sierra Leone. As part of this work I have been developing portable sequencing packages, which can be deployed to developing countries to assist with both diagnostics and molecular epidemiology.

My goal with the Borysiewicz Fellowship is to develop collaborative projects with either national or international partners that will enable this technology to be deployed to those needing it the most, such as resource poor communities throughout West or Central Africa.

Dr Alexander Patto

I am a Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellow in Jeremy Baumberg’s lab in the department of physics. My research focusses around developing low-cost methods of identifying bacterial contamination for use in low resource settings. Also I am CEO of WaterScope, a not-for-profit company through which my research has a clear route to impact. To date we have raised over £130,000 and completed our first field trial in one of the largest refugee camps in the modern world.

The first-year training platform in the Borysiewicz Fellowship which will run in parallel with my enterprise fellowship, will help prepare me for the next two years, which will be crucial in securing funding and ensuring effective project management and strategy as I begin to scale up the company. I am excited to be a member of the wider Fellowship community and believe I could share my unique experiences with other members within the fellowship.

Dr Velislava Petrova

I am a Postdoctoral Fellow at The Wellcome Sanger Institute where I study the role of genetics in the immune responses during infection and inflammation.

I was born in Bulgaria, but moved to the UK to complete a bachelor degree in Virology and Immunology at the University of Bristol. My academic journey continued with a PhD at the University of Cambridge where I used sequencing to study the evolution of antibody responses following virus infection and vaccination.

I am actively involved in a range of initiatives aimed to mentor and nurture young talent. My free time is dedicated to traveling and studying the science behind perfume-making.

I have a strong interest in science policy and global health and would like to use the fellowship to explore the most effective routes to raise awareness about the importance of vaccination.

Dr Dilrini De Silva

I am a Research Associate in Bioinformatics at Cancer Research UK, Cambridge Institute with an interest in public health and translating genomic research to the clinic. Through the Borysiewicz Fellowship, I look forward to improving access to genomic technologies for better patient outcomes in LMICs.

Prior to joining CRUK I designed and performed large-scale computational analyses of pathogen DNA sequencing data for tracking transmission and antimicrobial resistance at the Modernising Medical Microbiology Consortium, University of Oxford. I graduated with a Masters and PhD in Bioinformatics from Queen Mary, University of London and an undergraduate degree in Biotechnology from Bangalore University, India.

I also co-founded Theme Institute, a not-for-profit think tank in my home country Sri Lanka and develop its training portfolio under the themes of Health, Education and Technology. I also serve on the board of the Association of Professional Sri Lankans in the UK and develop its Cancer Relief Network.

Dr Mireia Crispin

I am a Research Fellow at Trinity College and at Cancer Research UK, Cambridge. I hold a PhD in Particle Physics from the University of Oxford, an MSci in Physics from the University of Valencia, and a BA in Music from the Conservatorio Superior de Valencia.

My research interests lie at the intersection between data science and the natural sciences: I work on computational models based on medical imaging data for personalised cancer treatment. A physicist by training, I previously worked at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and at CERN in Geneva.

I was co-Chair of the Science and Education Policy Association of New York, working to bridge the gap between scientists and policymakers, an area that I would like to explore further as a Borysiewicz Fellow. My research and outreach efforts have been recognised with awards from the New York Hall of Science, the University of Oxford, the Spanish Government, Winton Capital and Springer, among others.

Dr Paulo Amaral

I am a post-doctoral researcher at the Gurdon Institute, in the group of Professor Tony Kouzarides.

I am trained as a Biochemist (MSc) and Molecular Genetics (PhD), and my research focuses on the control of the activity of the genome in cancer cells and in organism development. I specialized in dissecting the roles of so-called noncoding DNA and the functions of the plethora of RNA molecules produced from it. In my post-doc, I am exploring the intersection between these regulatory RNAs and epigenetic mechanisms in cancer and pluripotent stem cells.

In addition to teaching and public engagement activities, I recently initiated a project to apply focused biochemical approaches to treat problems of major clinical relevance, such as drug overdosing.

With the training and experience offered by the Borysiewicz Biomedical Fellowship, I intend to further develop relevant ideas into feasible goals and drive them to fruition, whilst building the leadership skills necessary to become an independent researcher.