Ian has a BSc in Zoology and a PhD in Genetics, both from Edinburgh University. He worked on mouse genetics and general theoretical population genetics before taking up an MRC fellowship in 1994 to work on malaria population genetics. He moved to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in 1999 and has continued to work on malaria population genetics, the spread of drug resistance and, more recently, the spread of insecticide resistance in mosquitoes.
Experience has shown that treating infectious agents inevitably leads to the evolution of drug resistance; the key questions are how long will the process take, and how can we adopt strategies to delay it? We cannot answer the first question for two main reasons. Firstly, resistance is encoded by genetic mutations which in the case of resistance to some antimalarial drugs is exceedingly rare. This means that luck plays a huge role: we may be lucky and not get a mutation for a long time, or we may be unlucky and a mutation nullifies a drug within a short time of its deployment. The second reason is that it is obviously unethical to experiment on people with severe diseases and we remain profoundly ignorant about much of the basic biology underlying the infection dynamics; this means it is impossible to calibrate our calculations` in several key areas. My work essentially consists of making population genetic models of the spread of resistance in which we can 'guesstimate' the unmeasured parameters and assess their impact. The models can then play a vital role in addressing the second question i.e. how can we devise strategies to slow the spread of resistance once it has arisen?
A second research theme is to use mechanistic pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic methods (a type of pharmacological modelling technique) to simulate parasite dynamics in people following the drug treatment of malaria. This enables us to generate a pharmacologically-explicit calibration of the genetics of resistance, and also allows us to simulate malaria drug clinical trials. Effective surveillance for drug resistance is a high-priority public health requirement in endemic countries and our research is showing how the current surveillance methodologies may be substantially improved by better analysis of genetic data.
I currently organise two final-year modules for the undergraduate BSc in Tropical Diseases Biology and teach in various BSc, MSc and diploma programmes run through the School of Tropical Medicine.