Research leadership award for LASER’s Dr Stella Kepha

Dr Stella Kepha
9 January 2017

LASER Research Fellow, Dr Stella Kepha has been awarded a prestigious THRiVE post-doctoral fellowship to support her work in exploring the use of molecular tools to improve our understanding of soil transmitted helminth (STH) epidemiology.

THRiVE or Training Health Researchers into Vocational Excellence, is a consortium of east African and UK universities and research institutes which aims to strengthen the quality of health research in East Africa. THRiVE seeks to facilitate talented and up-and-coming researchers to become leaders in their given research field. 

Dr Kepha has been awarded a two-year THRiVE post-doctoral fellowship to conduct research to develop and refine molecular and statistical tools which can be used to help control and eliminate parasitic worms including STH.

The award recognises the timeliness of Dr Kepha’s research in light of the priority placed by World Health Organization on identifying strategies to break the transmission cycle parasitic infections such as STH.

Dr Kepha’s research interests focus on the control of helminths and helminth-malaria interactions among school children. Her work with LASER has seen her based full-time with the TUMIKIA project in Kenya, which is evaluating different deworming delivery strategies on the control of helminth transmission.

The THRiVE fellowship will enable Dr Kepha to continue to pursue her research interests as part of the TUMIKIA project.

Speaking about these potential research synergies Dr Kepha said,
‘Working with colleagues in the LASER group ensures my study is based within a large cluster randomised trial, and provides opportunities to collaborate with researchers across several disciplines. I’m looking forward to continuing to learn from my colleagues, ultimately expanding my epidemiological skill set. ‘

The research component of Dr Kepha’s fellowship will focus on three key areas:

  • Assessing the effectiveness of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) as an alternative diagnostic tool for evaluating the effectiveness of STH treatment in large studies.  PCR is a DNA sequencing technique used in molecular biology to amplify a small amounts DNA. This technique should help us detect the very low levels of STH expected after many years of control. 
  • Analysing the genetic structure of hookworm in selected communities to understand who infects who and whether these parasites are localised or freely mixing. 
  • Looking for evidence of STH resistance to the commonly used deworming drug (albendazole) across communities receiving different levels of drug treatment.

Speaking about the award, Dr Kepha said, ‘Given the limited number of fellowships available I’m honoured and delighted to be have been awarded one. It will afford me the opportunity to learn new molecular techniques and analysis approaches. It will also enable me to work and apply my research findings across different LASER research projects.’

Alongside the research components of the fellowship Dr Kepha will also be mentoring the next generation of researchers thought the adoption of a high school and the encouragement of students to pursue careers in sciences.