The zoonotic potential of feline Brugia malayi to re-introduce human brugian filariasis into Thailand and Sri Lanka

Both Thailand and Sri Lanka eliminated human lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem in 2016-2017. Monitoring and surveillance post-elimination has highlighted a previously hidden potential animal reservoir of Brugia malayi in domestic cats and dogs, with human cases detected in both countries. Working with colleagues in both Thailand and Sri Lanka the PhD will study the potential for zoonotic transmission from feline reservoirs of Brugia malayi. The project will involve the analysis of newly established laboratory strains of Brugia malayi to conduct comparative genomics and parasitological characteristics associated with periodic and sub-periodic strains compared to the existing aperiodic laboratory strain. Historically, periodic strains were restricted to human infections and sub-periodic strains found in a range of zoonotic reservoirs in primates, cats and humans. A recent human case study showed a sub-periodic pattern suggestive of zoonotic transmission1.

This analysis will be used to: i) identify molecular markers of periodic and sub-periodic parasite strains, ii) characterise the genetic basis of periodicity, iii) conduct field surveys of feline and human cases together with xenomonitoring of local transmission in mosquito vectors to validate ongoing zoonotic transmission.

The opportunity for an industrial placement with New England Biolabs for genome sequencing and annotation is available.

Where does the project lie on the Translational Pathway?

T1 – Basic Research        T2 Human / Clinical Research

Expected Outputs

Authorship on scientific papers. Further funding opportunities to exploit new laboratory parasite strains. Potential impact to progress towards strategies for the monitoring and control of zoonotic reservoirs to prevent resurgence of human filariasis in endemic countries.

Training Opportunities

Training in filarial parasitology, genome analysis, molecular biology and field surveys.

Skills Required

Background in biomedical sciences with an interest in infectious disease and/or parasitology

Key Publications associated with this project

Mallawarachchi, C.H., et al. (2018) Human infection with sub-periodic Brugia spp. in Gampaha District, Sri Lanka: a threat to filariasis elimination status? Parasites Vectors 11, 68

Mallawarachchi CH, et al. (2018) A preliminary survey of filarial parasites in dogs and cats in Sri Lanka. PLoS One. 13(11)

Phuakrod, et al. (2019) Diagnosis of feline filariasis assisted by a novel semi-automated microfluidic device in combination with high resolution melting real-time PCR. Parasit Vectors. 8;12(1):159.

Khowawisetsut et al. (2017) Therapeutic trial of doxycycline plus ivermectin for the treatment of Brugia malayi naturally infected cats. Vet Parasitol. 245:42-47.

Taylor MJ, Hoerauf A, Bockarie M (2010) Lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis. Lancet, 376(9747):1175-85.

LSTM Themes and Topics – Key Words

Neglected Tropical Diseases


Application Portal closes: Thursday 9th February 2023 (12:00 noon UK time)

Shortlisting complete by: End Feb/early March 2023

Interviews by: Late March/early April 2023

Further information on the MRC CASE/DTP 2023/24 programme and how to apply can be found here