Joanne Webster

Professor Joanne P. Webster is the Royal Veterinary College Chair in Parasitic Diseases, Director of the Centre for Emerging, Endemic and Exotic Diseases (CEEED) and Associate Director of the London Centre for Neglected Tropical Disease Research (LCNTDR).  Joanne also holds an Hon. Professorship at Imperial College London’s Faculty of Medicine and Senior Research Fellowship at the NHM.   She is an Advisor on the World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Panel Working Group for NTD elimination strategies and also their Global Working Group on Monitoring of Drug Efficacy.  Prof Webster is also on the Management Boards of the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI) and the London International Development Centre (LIDC).

After gaining a double First class B.Sc. hons, Joanne’s D.Phil at the University of Oxford examined the epidemiology of zoonotic disease.  Her doctoral research also developed a novel line of research focusing on the impact of the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii on host behaviour and its association with chronic disease.  After a year working as a clinical scientist at the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre (CDSC) in London, she returned to Oxford as a postdoctoral fellow, EPA Cephalosporin JRF, Lecturer in Infectious Diseases and finally as a Royal Society University Research Fellow (URF).  During this period she expanded the scope of her work to encompass global health and tropical field research and disease control across much of Africa and Asia. Joanne accepted a Readership at Imperial College in 2003 and was promoted to a personal tenured Chair in Parasitic Disease Epidemiology in 2006.  The key motivation for this move was the unique opportunity to be co-Director of the then newly formed Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI).  In this role she has been responsible from the outset for the design, implementation and evaluation of large-scale sustainable Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) control programmes, with a focus on schistosomiasis, across sub-Saharan Africa.   These activities attracted approximately $155 million in funding and provided over 273 million chemotherapeutic treatments for children and at-risk adults (2003-2014).   In October 2014 Joanne joined the Royal Veterinary College as their Professor of Parasitic Diseases to expand her focus on One Health Research and disease control.

Joanne’s key areas of research focus on the evolution, epidemiology, behaviour and control of helminth and protozoan parasites of humans and animals.  Her research activities have been awarded a number of high profile Prizes and Medals (e.g. CA Wright medal (2005) for Outstanding Contribution to Parasitology; National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of animals in research NC3Rs prize (2007); Queen’s Anniversary Prize and medal (2008); Royal Society of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine/Elsevier citation prize (2009) and the Chalmers Memorial Medal (2013) to recognise Outstanding Contribution to Tropical Medicine.  Joanne, and the original ZELS research programme on which this Bloomsbury Set award was based, was a (2018) Finalist in the International Impact category of BBSRC Innovator of the Year.

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Bloomsbury SET award

Title: A multi-disciplinary approach to optimize, evaluate uptake, and mathematically predict impact of POC-CCA and CAA  diagnostic tests for targeted treatment of zoonotic hybrid and livestock schistosomiasis in sub-Saharan Africa.

PI: Professor Joanne P. Webster (RVC)

Co-Is: Dr Martin Walker (RVC), Dr James Rudge (LSHTM), Dr Elsa Leger (RVC)

Schistosomiasis is a neglected tropical disease of profound medical importance. Over 240 million people are infected, 90% of these are amongst the poorest of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Although generally ignored, schistosomiasis is also a disease of substantial veterinary importance, causing widespread morbidity and mortality. Furthermore, recent environmental changes are exacerbating opportunities for the mixing and subsequent viable hybridization between human and animal schistosome species in many parts of Africa, in particular West Africa. In addition to the economic impact of livestock schistosomiasis, novel zoonotic hybrid schistosomes are having a substantial impact on the epidemiology, evolution and clinical outcomes of disease, with further challenges and constraints for effective control. Our challenge to this previously unforeseen need is to, in line with current human-focused national disease control programmes, promote appropriate schistosomiasis diagnosis and treatment to livestock under specific conditions of need, whilst minimizing drug emergence risk.

A novel point-of-care (POC) lateral flow cassette assay that diagnoses human intestinal (S. mansoni)  schistosomiasis infection, through detection of parasite circulating cathodic antigen (CCA) in patient urine, is now commercially available (POC-CCA) and is currently gaining favour as the diagnostic tool of choice for rapid mapping of human schistosomiasis.  There are few, if any comparable rapid diagnostic tools available for animal schistosomiasis.   Here we aim to, in collaboration with industrial (RMD, South Africa) and diagnostic development partners (University of Leiden), evaluate and optimise the POC-CCA diagnostic test for potential rapid detection of zoonotic hybrid and animal schistosomiasis (S. bovis, S. curassoni with S. haematobium and hybrids therein) amongst domestic livestock in SSA.  This will be combined with differential predictive mathematical simulations to design the most effective and sustainable treatment strategies for livestock, together with an evaluation as to whether key stakeholders in endemic countries would be amenable to such livestock diagnosis and targeted ant-schistosomiasis treatment practices and policies. Working within a One Health framework, this research therefore ultimately aims to improve human and animal health.

Joanne Webster short