Professor Jacqui Matthews, Moredun Research Institute

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Professor Jacqui Matthews

Professor Jacqui Matthews, from Moredun Research Institute, chatted to us about her career researching vaccines for livestock and equine parasites. Professor Matthews also leads PARAGONE, an exciting consortium that aims to develop animal parasite vaccines.

What is your name and job title? Professor Jacqueline Matthews BVMS PhD FRCVS, Principal Veterinary Parasitologist.

Tell us about how you got to where you are today

I did a degree in veterinary medicine at Glasgow University and in year 3 discovered parasitology and have been hooked ever since. After a short period in practice, I was awarded a Wellcome Trust Scholarship to undertake a PhD with Professor George Urquhart at Glasgow Veterinary School. George had been instrumental in developing the bovine lungworm (Dictyocaulus viviparus) vaccine, a live vaccine based on irradiated larvae and which is still used on farms throughout western europe. My PhD was on antigen discovery to underpin the development of a subunit vaccine for lungworm control. At the end of my PhD, I moved to a lectureship at Glasgow and continued with the lungworm vaccine research. At this time, I developed research into a relatively neglected, yet important group of parasites, the cyathostomins (or small strongyles) that infect most of the world’s grazing equid population. I have worked on these worms ever since and I developed this research further when I moved to the equine department at veterinary school in Liverpool in 1998. None of the equine helminth research is vaccine based, but focuses on understanding anthelmintic resistance and developing tools to support evidence-based control. In 2004, I moved back to Scotland (to Moredun Research Institute), and with that, came a new target for the vaccine research, alongside the equine parasitology. The new target was the sheep stomach worm, Teladorsagia circumcincta. Here, I took a similar strategy to the one that I had applied to lungworm, i.e. to define antigens released by the worms that are targets of protective immune responses. For a number of reasons, T. circumcincta is a much more tractable organism to work with than lungworm so I chose to focus my vaccine research at this stage on the sheep parasite. This work has been very successful, with a sub-unit vaccine prototype defined that has been shown to induce protection against infection. I continue to work on this parasite, as well as the cyathostomins, alongside a large team of interdisciplinary scientists at Moredun. With funding from Scottish Government, the EU, the BBSRC and an animal health company, we are focussing activities on simplifying the vaccine’s formulation and investigating mechanisms behind variation in responsiveness to the vaccine.

What sparked your interest in veterinary vaccines?

Undertaking a PhD with some of the group that had developed the only commercially available veterinary helminth vaccine was very inspiring. There was a collegiate spirit engendered in tackling the parasite and I have tried to bring that to many research partnerships throughout my career.

Tell us about your research initiative?

One of my initiatives is the EU Horizon 2020 parasite vaccine consortium, PARAGONE, that I lead. This is a 17-member partnership of academic and commercial organisations working to develop animal parasite vaccines.

Why is PARAGONE important? 

The development of subunit vaccines for multicellular parasites has proved a real challenge to the global research community. This is due to the complexity of these organisms and their ability to modulate host immune responses. Recently, subunit vaccines designed to control a number of globally important parasites of ruminants have shown promise. In PARAGONE, the partners are taking several prototypes and testing them in further pen and field trials, as well as combining some to make multivalent vaccines. For parasites for which vaccines have proved difficult to develop, fundamental studies are being performed to inform on the type of host response that needs to be stimulated to obtain protection. This work feeds into the selection of novel adjuvant and delivery systems with which to formulate the vaccines. By bringing these streams together, PARAGONE is taking the current best multicellular parasite vaccine prototypes forward to demonstration, commercialisation and uptake.

What is your next goal? 

Moving the vaccine further towards commercialisation by simplifying its formulation and proving efficacy in field trials. With the cyathostomin research, we are developing a diagnostic test that detects immature larvae; we are currently working with a commercial partners (Austin Davis Biologics) on a Horse Trust funded process to translate the diagnostic test from a research tool to commercial tests to be used by veterinarians and other animal health advisors in practice.

What benefits do you hope to get from being a member of the International Veterinary Vaccinology Network? 

I hope to meet other like-minded scientists to develop research in veterinary vaccines to target parasites in developed and developing regions. I am also interested in expanding my skills to aquaculture as there is a huge need to parasite vaccines in that area.

What do you think you could help other members of the International Veterinary Vaccinology Network achieve? 

I could support ‘younger’ scientists in career development by providing advice and support on developing grant applications, writing up research and most importantly, trying to achieve a good work/life balance (I have worked part-time for most of the last 15 years).

For more information go to: https://www.moredun.org.uk/people/staff/professor-jacqui-matthews or follow me on Twitter @ProfJBMatthews