I undertook my BSc in Zoology at the University of Manchester (2010-2013), where I first gained my interest in parasitology, and specifically those species responsible for causing Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) in humans.
After being awarded a UK/EU Scholarship, I followed this interest in parasitology and went on to complete an MSc in Medical Parasitology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). During my time at LSHTM I developed a specific interest in human diseases caused by flukes (Trematoda), and went on to conduct my thesis on the transmission of schistosomiasis in Zanzibar (United Republic of Tanzania) thanks to the supervision and guidance of Dr. Stefanie Knopp and Professor David Rollinson at the Natural History Museum, London. Elimination of urogenital schistosomiasis (Schistosoma haematobium) transmission is a priority for the Zanzibar Ministry of Health. Preventative chemotherapy together with additional control interventions have successfully alleviated much of the disease burden. However, a persistently high S. haematobium prevalence is found in certain areas known as hot-spots. After surveying these persistent hot-spots and making comparisons with low-prevalence areas, a key finding from my research was that persistent hot-spots contained considerably higher numbers of human water contact sites where transmission was possible, and also a reduced access to readily available safe water. This data is now being used to support the intervention planning for schistosomiasis elimination in Zanzibar. Following completion of my MSc, I was employed as a Research Assistant focusing on schistosome population genetics as part of the Schistosomiasis Consortium for Operational Research and Evaluation (SCORE) in collaboration with the Natural History Museum (London, UK), the Royal Veterinary College (London, UK), andthe University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia, USA).
The purpose behind the schistosome population genetics project is to provide insights into potential genetic changes in Schistosoma mansoni (Tanzania) and S. haematobium (Niger and Zanzibar) populations in response to varying levels of mass drug administration pressure. As a part of this SCORE project, myself and colleagues from the schistosomiasis group conduct fieldwork in endemic settings to collect larval stages of the schistosome parasite from infected persons urine or stool samples (miracidia) depending on the schistosome species, and also from infected snails collected from transmission
sites that shed the infective form of the parasite (cercariae). These collections are incorporated into the Schistosomiasis Collection at the Natural History Museum (NHM), London (SCAN), and subsequently used for genetic analyses.
Location: Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW75BD, Room: DC1.409
and Cardiff School of Biosciences, The Sir Martin Evans Building, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX, Room: C7.07
My PhD based at the NHM and Cardiff University will use recent advances in snail-vector molecular biology to understand the transmission and the genetic relationship between schistosomes (S. haematobium and S. mansoni) and their intermediate host snails (Bulinus sp. and Biomphalaria sp.). During this project I will use molecular tools such as next generation (NGS) and Sanger sequencing to explore the biodiversity and population genetics of intermediate host-snails that inhabit varying freshwater environments in sub-Saharan Africa. By further developing this molecular toolkit, I hope to shed light on whether the infection success of these snails by schistosomes is truly determined by snail-schistosome genetic compatibility, or if additional ecological factors (abiotic e.g. temperature or biotic e.g. third party symbiotic bacteria or viruses) may also influence the outcomes of infection. Untangling the complexities of immunity and virulence that have evolved to influence snail-schistosome compatibility will facilitate monitoring, predicting and modifying transmission of schistosomiasis and other snail-borne parasites.
This project will also contribute to the development of new snail diagnostic tools to allow monitoring and surveillance of schistosome infections in snails and disease transmission in endemic regions (molecular xenomonitoring). This will be of increasing importance when moving toward schistosomiasis elimination in places such as Zanzibar where new tools will be needed to monitor transmission and eventual certification of transmission interruption.
My research is funded by NERC (GW4+ DTP) and is supervised by Dr. Bonnie Webster at the NHM and Professor Jo Cable at Cardiff University. I was awarded a travel grant in 2016 from the London Centre for Neglected Tropical Disease Research for early career researcher, which I have used to conduct preliminary research in Zanzibar for developing the snail molecular xenomonitoring tool. I am a student representative for the British Society of Parasitology, and I am also involved in public engagement activities at the NHM, involving ‘Science Uncovered’, ‘Parasites Day’ and conducting public talks such as a recent ‘Nature Live’ on ‘Defeating Disease’.
Peer reviewed publications
Webster, B. L., Rabone, M., Pennance, T., Emery, A. M., Allan, F., Gouvras, A., & Webster, J. P. (2015). Development of novel multiplex microsatellite polymerase chain reactions to enable high-throughput population genetic studies of Schistosoma haematobium. Parasites & Vectors, 8(1), 1-5.
Pennance, T., Person, B., Kabole, F., Muhsin, J., Khamis, I.S., Mohammed, K.A., Rabone, M., Rollinson, D. and Knopp, S. (2016) Urogenital schistosomiasis transmission on Unguja Island, Zanzibar: characterisation of persistent hot-spots. Parasites & Vectors, 9(1),646
Léger, E., Garba, A., Hamidou, A. A., Webster, B. L., Pennance, T., Rollinson, D., Webser, J. P. (2016) Molecular identification of introgressed animal schistosomes Schistosoma curassoni and S. bovis naturally infecting humans. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 22(12), 2212
Pennance, T. (2015) The importance of freshwater snails in local transmission of urogenital schistosomiasis and the identification and characterization of transmission hot-spots in Zanzibar. British Society for Parasitology, Spring Meeting (Liverpool).