Julian Rayner, PhD

Posted 11 September 2018

2019 Councilor Candidate

Julian Rayner, PhD
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, United Kingdom

Personal Statement
ASTMH plays a unique role in the global health community. It is the quintessential big tent - a place where professionals with the widest range of skills and experiences come together to tackle intractable and often overlooked problems that disproportionately affect the world’s poorest people. ASTMH has an enormous impact - initiating and supporting collaborations, disseminating and advancing knowledge, supporting the next generation of global health professionals through awards and fellowships, and advocating to raise the profile of the field as a whole. For its members it serves as a source of information, friendship, funding and pride.

As a long-time member and frequent contributor to the ASTMH mission, these are all priorities that resonate with me. I have worked as a malaria researcher in the USA and UK, and I collaborate with partners from all over the world. Those partnerships have both been created and nurtured by the regular contact that the ASTMH Annual Meeting provides. I have been deeply involved in training future scientists throughout my career, and know the impact that the many ASTMH fellowship and studentship schemes can have, some of which I helped create as a past president of the ACMCIP subgroup. I contributed to developing the structure for expanding the ASTMH Council to include trainees, and as Councilor would continue to advocate for trainees in every way possible.

There are two primary challenges that I would like to address as ASTMH Councilor. The first is interdisciplinarity. We are a big tent, but with that comes the risk that we interact primarily with people in similar fields. I believe that we need to continually challenge ourselves and search for new ways to work across specialism boundaries. I would be an advocate for the role of basic parasitology research within ASTMH, and actively explore ways that we can bring disciplines and subgroups together in innovative formats.

My second area of focus would be engagement. Public engagement and outreach are both a personal priority and a part of my current role at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the UK, and I believe that such work is a fundamental and essential part of the academic mission. As global health professionals, it is our responsibility to not only engage with each other, but also to engage with the world. I am currently working with colleagues to bring public engagement activities to the Annual Meeting in New Orleans, as a pilot for what I hope will be a regular feature of future meetings. As a Councilor I would work to create opportunities for ASTMH members to engage with the broadest range of public audiences, including future global health scientists at local schools, to further increase public understanding of and support for global health, and the importance of the problems that we tackle together.

Summary of Volunteer/Member Roles in ASTMH
I have been an active member of ASTMH since 1999, and view it as an essential part of my professional life. I was awarded an ASTMH Young Investigator Award as a postdoc in 2002, and was delighted to subsequently serve on the Young Investigator Award Committee from 2005-2012. Listening to the enthusiasm and commitment of the Young Investigators on a Sunday afternoon is still one of my favorite things about the ASTMH Annual Meeting. Through that experience I made many new contacts and collaborations across the society, which led directly to becoming more heavily involved with the Basic Parasitology (ACMCIP) subgroup, serving as ACMCIP President from 2014-2016. During my time as ACMCIP President I conceived and delivered a number of new initiatives, including our first subgroup Award, the William Trager Award for Basic Parasitology, which was awarded for the first time in 2016. This award recognizes the transformational legacy of Prof. William Trager, a former ASTMH President who first adapted Plasmodium parasites to in vitro culture, a breakthrough on which almost all of modern Plasmodium experimental research rests. We also initiated specific training awards to support LMIC trainees to attend the ASTMH Annual Meeting, and to enable ACMCIP trainees to attend courses relevant to their areas of research. As ACMCIP President I also attended ASTMH Council meetings, and gained an appreciation of the complexity and scale of ASTMH activities, and the amount of time and commitment that elected members, who are all enormously busy people, give to that mission. 

I have contributed to several recent ASTMH initiatives, providing input into the scoping and awarding of the inaugural Clara Ludlow Medal, and the initiative that has led to the instigation of the new Councilor positions who will be drawn from the student, trainee, resident and post-doc sectors of the Society. I joined the ASTMH Annual Meeting Scientific Program Committee in 2018, and am helping to spearhead a set of pilot public engagement initiatives for the 2018 Annual Meeting, where ASTMH members will engage directly with public and school audiences through a variety of creative formats. I am proud of the richness and diversity of ASTMH activities, and welcome the opportunity to stand for Council in order to find new ways to contribute to the Society mission.

Biographical Information
My undergraduate education took place in New Zealand, where I was born, and I graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry in 1992. In 1993 I moved to the United Kingdom to undertake a PhD at the University of Cambridge, working on protein trafficking at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. I was a post-doctoral fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta between 1998 and 2002, where I began to apply the cell biological approaches I had learned to malaria. I have been using molecular and cellular approaches to understand malaria parasites and identify and prioritize novel intervention targets ever since.

My first faculty position was at the University of Alabama Birmingham, where I was an Assistant Professor between 2002 and 2008. In 2008 I moved back to the UK to join the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which is one of the world’s leading genome research institutes and located just outside Cambridge. My research group uses high throughput approaches, including genomics, proteomics and experimental genetics, to understand the interactions between Plasmodium parasites and human cells, in order to identify and prioritize new drug and vaccine targets. Since arriving at Sanger my group has identified an interaction between the P. falciparum merozoite protein PfRh5 and the erythrocyte protein Basigin that appears to be absolutely essential for invasion to occur and is now a major focus for blood-stage vaccine development, and co-led the first two genome-scale genetics screens in Plasmodium parasites, working with Oliver Billker to perform systematic targeted mutagenesis of half the genes in the P. berghei genome, and with John Adams and Rays Zhang on large-scale random transposon mutagenesis in P. falciparum.

I work with a wide range of colleagues and collaborators from all over the world, many of whom are ASTMH members. I am working on P. vivax blood stage biology and vaccine antigen screening in close partnership with ASTMH stalwarts Pradip Rathod and Manoj Duraisingh in a project that involves partners in India and Brazil. I have deep collaborations in both West and East Africa, including with Gordon Awandare and Faith Osier, and have run training courses in Ghana, Senegal and Kenya. In South America I am working in partnership with Vladimir Corredor and Socrates Herrera to understand parasite population structure on the Pacific Coast of Colombia. I view these collaborations as both an essential part of my work, and reflective of the mission and collaborative ethos of ASTMH.

I was Director of the Graduate Program at Sanger from 2012 to 2014, during which time I instigated a Masters in Genomic Medicine program specifically to support trainees from LMICs. In 2014 I became Director of Wellcome Genome Campus Connecting Science, a program which aims to enable everyone to explore genomics and its impact on research, health and society. Spanning conferences, hands on training courses and public engagement, Connecting Science develops and delivers learning and engagement events to more than 15,000 scientists, healthcare professionals and members of the public every year.