Infection, Immunology & Translational Medicine (IITM) Oxford

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Richard Wheeler

Richard Wheeler gives us his take on IITM and tells us about his career since.

Richard studied Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, specialising in Biochemistry. During his first year in Oxford he undertook rotations in the labs of Keith Gull, Anton van der Merwe and Nicole Zitzmann. He then completed his DPhil under the joint supervision of Keith Gull and Eva Gluenz.

Richard explained: “Trypanosome and Leishmania parasites are unicellular eukaryotes that cause several human diseases. As part of their adaptation to a host they undergo morphological changes to adapt their highly organised and polarised shape and ultrastructure.”

“How and why they do this is poorly understood. My DPhil project involved analysis of how Leishmania generate their cell shape through division and adapt it on infection of a human, and how this links to the ability of the cell to swim. I also developed techniques for automated image analysis of these parasites to allow high throughput analysis.”

So what has Richard been doing since his DPhil? Well, after a short postdoctoral research assistant position he was awarded a Sir Henry Wellcome fellowship. As he told us: “I used this opportunity to work in Dresden with Tony Hyman, applying the high throughput image analysis skills I developed in my DPhil to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.”

He has now returned to Oxford and trypanosomes as co-PI on the TrypTag.org project to determine the cellular localisation of every protein encoded in the Trypanosoma brucei, while also continuing his own research into morphogenesis of trypanosomes.

The IITM program is embedded in excellent departments, with a huge number of opportunities for doing world class research and receiving mentorship.

Richard told us how IITM has helped him in his career: “The IITM program is embedded in excellent departments, with a huge number of opportunities for doing world class research and receiving mentorship. The rotation year guarantees exposure to this, and gives you a chance to combine ideas from. multiple labs. I also felt well supported and mentored by the course organisers.”

Richard advises current IITM students to “take advantage of the opportunities to develop your general skills, particularly presentation, writing and (particularly!) programming, both as part of the IITM course and from general University graduate courses”. He continued: “Whether or not you want to stay in science these, skills are in high demand and you gave great chances to develop them.”

An undergraduate degree is about learning knowledge, a DPhil is about making discoveries.

During his undergraduate degree at Cambridge, Richard undertook a laboratory-based summer placement as well as completing research projects as part of his undergraduate and Master’s degrees. He told us: “An undergraduate degree is about learning knowledge, a DPhil is about making discoveries. Anything you can do to show you are motivated by discovery or the technologies to make discoveries is very useful,and research experience outside of your undergraduate or master’s, like summer work in an academic or industrial lab, would help an application.”

Publications from IITM:

Wheeler RJ, Gluenz E, Gull K (2013). “The limits on trypanosomatid morphological diversity.”. PLoS One DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0079581

Wheeler RJ, Gull K, Gluenz E (2012). “Detailed interrogation of trypanosome cell biology via differential organelle staining and automated image analysis.”. BMC Biology 10: 1.

Dushek O, Aleksic M, Wheeler RJ, Zhang H, Cordoba SP, Peng YC, Chen JL, Cerundolo V, Dong T, Coombs D, van der Merwe PA (2011). “Antigen potency and maximal efficacy reveal a mechanism of efficient T cell activation.”. Science Signalling 4(176): ra39.

Wheeler RJ, Gluenz E, Gull K (2011). “The cell cycle of Leishmania: morphogenetic events and their implications for parasite biology.”. Molecular Microbiology 79(3): 647-62.

Wheeler RJ (2010). “The trypanolytic factor-mechanism, impacts and applications”. Trends in Parasitology 26(9): 457-64.

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