Henley Educational Trust Sponsor Local Student in Vital Disease Research

Henley Educational Trust (HET) are pleased to be part-funding local student, Harriet Herridge, to follow her dream to study for a Master’s Degree based in Berlin and carry out vital research into a new disease in chimpanzees.

Harriet said “I first found out about this exciting project back in December 2019, when the University of Exeter advertised for a Master’s by Research student to look into infectious disease outbreaks in critically endangered chimpanzees of Western Africa. Having been interested in both primate conservation and wildlife disease during my Zoology degree, this was a dream opportunity for me.”

“But this would never have been possible without the generosity of the Henley Educational Trust. Their grant meant I was able to accept this incredible opportunity, move countries and work among this inspiring group of researchers. The skills I am gaining will be hugely beneficial to my future career, and for that I am beyond grateful.”

Speaking on behalf of the HET, Chair of Trustees, Amanda Heath echoed Harriet’s sentiments, “We are enormously proud to be able to help Harriet by way of a grant towards her studies and her work in this important field.  We are all so aware these days of the impact of infections both in humans and animals and especially those related so closely to us. To be able to be a part of such vital work is fantastic.”

She went on to say, “Although much of HET funding goes to our under 18s either by individual grant or via local schools, college and clubs HET are also able to part-fund young people in need up to the age of 25 to help them gain access to further education.  I am sure that this Master’s Degree will help Harriet on her way to a brilliant career and a better world in the future.”

The project that Harriet is involved with is based for 6 months at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin; Germany’s central scientific institute for biomedicine. The collaborators, headed by Professor Fabian Leendertz, are world-renowned for their ground-breaking work on highly infectious or harmful (pathogenic) microorganisms in wild populations, especially in great apes. Their research focuses mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, a hot-spot area for the emergence of diseases that spread between animals and humans (zoonotic diseases).

The research itself is part of a Leprosy monitoring project. In 2017, Dr Kimberley Hockings (University of Exeter) noticed some odd-looking lesions on several chimpanzees which were being observed via camera traps in Cantanhez National Park, Guinea Bissau. After contacting Professor Leendertz, chimpanzee faecal samples were collected and subsequently analysed. The results came back positive for leprosy which had never before been documented in wild chimpanzees.

Last October Harriet moved to Berlin to continue work on the chimp-leprosy project. Whilst there she has been working in the laboratories, extracting DNA from faecal samples and conducting molecular screening for the presence of leprosy. These 6 months have given her the opportunity to acquire important molecular techniques in the fields of disease ecology and evolution, as well as veterinary and biomedical research.

Going forward, Harriet is finishing her Master’s thesis in Germany and hoping to carry out further research in this field.  All at the HET wish her the very greatest success in the future and hope to hear more from her as she continues her exciting work.