Chronic infection, host immunity, and non-communicable disease risk
Worldwide, chronic infection of pathogens causes more than 2 million new cancer cases each year, with about two-thirds in less developed countries including China. While the role of several pathogens (e.g. H. pylori, HBV, HCV, EBV, and HPV) in the aetiology of certain cancers are well established, there is still limited data about their relevance for other cancer types and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), about the long-term health consequence of other chronic infections (e.g. certain types of herpes virus, Chlamydia), and about the roles of host immunity and pathogen subtypes in NCDs aetiology. Large prospective studies, such as the China Kadoorie Biobank (CKB) and UK Biobank (UKB), are well positioned to address various evidence gaps.
Using a similar custom-designed multiplex serological panel, serological data on 20 pathogens are available among 10,000 UKB participants and will be generated in 2024 among ~40,000 CKB participants (30,000 site-specific cancer cases and a sub-cohort of 10,000). These, together with available lifestyle, genetic, and health outcome data from both biobanks, will enable comprehensive assessment of the causal roles of multiple pathogen infections in the aetiology of NCDs.
RESEARCH EXPERIENCE, RESEARCH METHODS AND TRAINING
The specific project will be developed according to the student’s interests and aptitude, and may cover following key objectives:
- To examine the associations of chronic infection of particular pathogens with risks of site-specific cancers and/or certain NCDs in both populations;
- To assess the role of host immune genetics (e.g. HLA) in susceptibility to development of specific types of chronic infection and cancer;
- To determine the value of serological markers, in combination with other lifestyle and genetic factors, in predicting the risks of infection-related NCDs;
- To estimate the burden of different NCDs attributable to chronic infection of particular pathogens.
The student will work within a multi-disciplinary team, and will gain training and research experience in systematic literature review, study design and planning, data analysis and scientific writing. By the end of the DPhil, the student will be competent to review the literature, to plan, undertake and interpret analyses of large datasets, and to report research findings, including publications in peer-reviewed journals as lead author and presentation at conferences.
FIELD WORK, SECONDMENTS, INDUSTRY PLACEMENTS AND TRAINING
The student will be based in NDPH. There are excellent facilities and a world-class community of population health, data science, infectious disease, and genomic medicine researchers. There will be in-house training in epidemiology, statistics, and genetics and opportunities to work with external research institutes.
The ideal candidate should have a good first degree (2.1) and postgraduate training (e.g. MSc) in a relevant area (e.g. epidemiology, statistics, genetics, biomedical science or other related subjects), with a strong interest in infection-related population health.