During my first master thesis, at the laboratory of Virology, I successfully conducted very fundamental research on viral RNA-protein interactions. To get a broader academic perspective and to get most out of double degree, I wanted to do something different. I was determined that for my second master thesis I wanted to do something more applied, in the field of parasitology, and preferably abroad. Ruud Wilbers helped me realizing my plans and gave me the opportunity to work in Nicola Harris’s lab at the Department of Immunology and Pathology in Melbourne (Monash University, Australia).
Here I worked on the set-up and optimization of a novel drug screening pipeline to find compounds targeting the blood-feeding pathway of hookworms; one of the most important tropical neglected diseases. As not all stages of human hookworms are (easy) accessible we used Nippostrongylus brasiliensis, a murine infecting hematophagous nematode, as model organism. I learned how to maintain the parasites’ (N. brasiliensis) life-cycle, including infections of mice and rats, and collections of the different parasite stages. I designed and optimized novel assays to assess the viability of the different stages more efficiently and robust than the current way of screening. Different assays for the different stages of the parasite were required, which resulted in the design of a broad scala of assays: from spectrophotometric measurements to motility and imaging assays to measuring the metabolic rate. For one of the assays, I independently contacted another laboratory (Robin Gasser’s lab, Melbourne University, Australia) for advice and I even ended up designing an assay together with one of their post docs and performing the assay in their laboratory. These meetings are now by both parties seen as the fundament of their collaboration. Finally, from an initial small screen, a few ‘hits’ were selected and I even got the opportunity to test them in mice! Right now we are looking into patenting one of the compounds, and hopefully you can read about my work soon in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
It was a really exciting project, where I got the chance to acquire experience and knowledge in a plethora of experimental methods and systems. Apart from that, my supervisor Tiffany Bouchery was always very supportive and enthusiastic about my ideas and therefore really gave me room to design my own experiments and initiate contact with Robin Gasser. I am convinced that this unlimited freedom reflects the ‘real’ academic world, and therefore significantly contributed to my personal development.