Dr Matthew Robinson

Research Area: Global Health
Scientific Themes: Tropical Medicine & Global Health
Keywords: Molecular, Diagnostics, Global health, Scrub typhus, Murine typhus and Leptospira
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I lead the Molecular Bacteriology Team at LOMWRU (Lao-Oxford-Mahosot Hospital-Wellcome Research Unit), based in Vientiane in Lao PDR and working closely with the Lao Ministry of Health. The team supports the day-to-day running of the hospitals Microbiology Laboratory by providing molecular support for the detection and identification of pathogens in human clinical samples.

The team also provides molecular support for a number of health- and disease-related research projects. My background is in infectious diseases and my primary interests focus on rickettsial pathogens (scrub and murine typhus), from epidemiology of the pathogens and their associated vectors, through to clinical outcomes and diagnosis. I am also closely involved in many other tropical pathogens and diseases found in the region including leptospirosis and melliodosis.

Current projects the Molecular Bacteriology Team are currently working on include:

  • Evaluation of new diagnostic assays and techniques to determine their suitability for use in Laos and South East Asia as a whole, both at medical facilities and in the field environment.
  • Screening of vector specimens (such as fleas and ticks) for the presence of pathogens.
  • Detection of Burkholderia pseudomallei in environmental samples (soil and water)
  • Whole Genome Sequencing projects
  • Antibiotic susceptibility of pathogens (in particular the genetics of susceptibility)

My other roles include:

  • Rickettsial Research Coordinator for the MORU Tropical Network. I organise an annual symposium involving researchers within the network as well as close collaborators to discuss current and future work in the area (the 2017 meeting involved over 50 researchers from ten countries).
  • Area Safety Advisor (LOMWRU). I oversee the Health and Safety aspects of the unit and field sites in Laos, and coordinate with the senior management team and Health & Safety Teams across the network and in Oxford.
  • Country Director for Pint of Science Thailand. I am involved in the organising and running of the Pint of Science Festival in Thailand, an international science festival held over three days every year; 2017 was the first year that Pint of Science was held in Asia.

There are no collaborations listed for this principal investigator.

Ming DKY, Rattanavong S, Bharucha T, Sengvilaipaseuth O, Dubot-Pérès A, Newton PN, Robinson MT. 2017. Angiostrongylus cantonensis DNA in Cerebrospinal Fluid of Persons with Eosinophilic Meningitis, Laos. Emerg Infect Dis, 23 (12), pp. 2112-2113. | Show Abstract | Read more

Definitive identification of Angiostrongylus cantonensis parasites from clinical specimens is difficult. As a result, regional epidemiology and burden are poorly characterized. To ascertain presence of this parasite in patients in Laos with eosinophilic meningitis, we performed quantitative PCRs on 36 cerebrospinal fluid samples; 4 positive samples confirmed the parasite's presence.

Robinson MT, Jatupornpimol N, Sachaphimukh S, Lonnkvist M, Ruecker A, Cheah PY. 2017. The First Pint of Science Festival in Asia SCIENCE COMMUNICATION, 39 (6), pp. 810-820. | Show Abstract | Read more

© 2017, © The Author(s) 2017. The Pint of Science Festival is the largest annual international science festival. So far the event has been held simultaneously in Europe, North America, South America, Africa, and Australia but not in Asia. Pint of Science Thailand was held for the first time this year, in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok. This article briefly discusses some of the successes, challenges, and lessons learnt associated with running the first Pint of Science event in Asia, a culture very different to the Western Hemisphere cities that have currently hosted Pint of Science events.

Rajatileka S, Odd D, Robinson MT, Spittle AC, Dwomoh L, Williams M, Harding D, Wagstaff M, Owen M, Crosby C et al. 2017. Variants of the EAAT2 Glutamate Transporter Gene Promoter Are Associated with Cerebral Palsy in Preterm Infants. Mol Neurobiol, | Show Abstract | Read more

Preterm delivery is associated with neurodevelopmental impairment caused by environmental and genetic factors. Dysfunction of the excitatory amino acid transporter 2 (EAAT2) and the resultant impaired glutamate uptake can lead to neurological disorders. In this study, we investigated the role of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs; g.-200C>A and g.-181A>C) in the EAAT2 promoter in susceptibility to brain injury and neurodisability in very preterm infants born at or before 32-week gestation. DNA isolated from newborns' dried blood spots were used for pyrosequencing to detect both SNPs. Association between EAAT2 genotypes and cerebral palsy, cystic periventricular leukomalacia and a low developmental score was then assessed. The two SNPs were concordant in 89.4% of infants resulting in three common genotypes all carrying two C and two A alleles in different combinations. However, in 10.6% of cases, non-concordance was found, generating six additional rare genotypes. The A alleles at both loci appeared to be detrimental and consequently, the risk of developing cerebral palsy increased four- and sixfold for each additional detrimental allele at -200 and -181 bp, respectively. The two SNPs altered the regulation of the EAAT2 promoter activity and glutamate homeostasis. This study highlights the significance of glutamate in the pathogenesis of preterm brain injury and subsequent development of cerebral palsy and neurodevelopmental disabilities. Furthermore, the described EAAT2 SNPs may be an early biomarker of vulnerability to neurodisability and may aid the development of targeted treatment strategies.

Aiken SS, Cooper JJ, Florance H, Robinson MT, Michell S. 2015. Local release of antibiotics for surgical site infection management using high-purity calcium sulfate: an in vitro elution study. Surg Infect (Larchmt), 16 (1), pp. 54-61. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: The aim of this study was to characterize the elution of four antibiotics from pharmaceutical-grade calcium sulfate beads and show that the eluted antibiotics retained efficacy. METHODS: Calcium sulfate was combined with gentamicin, tobramycin, vancomycin, or rifampicin (ratio: 20 g of calcium sulfate, to 240 mg, 500 mg, 900 mg, and 600 mg of antibiotic, respectively). Three grams of beads were immersed in 4 mL of sterile phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) at 37°C. At each time point (4, 8, 24 h; 2, 7, 14, 28, 42 d), eluates were removed for analysis by liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. The antimicrobial efficacy of antibiotics combined with calcium sulfate beads after 42 d was tested by a modified Kirby-Bauer disc diffusion assay. RESULTS: All samples showed a generally exponential decay in the eluted antibiotic concentration. At the first time point, both gentamicin and tobramycin had eluted to a peak concentration of approximately 10,000 mcg/mL. For rifampicin, the peak concentration occurred at 24 h, whereas for vancomycin, it occurred at 48 h. The eluted concentrations exceeded the minimum inhibitory concentration for common periprosthetic joint infection pathogens for the entire span of the 42 study days. Mass spectrometry confirmed all antibiotics were unchanged when eluted from the calcium sulfate carrier. Antimicrobial efficacy was unaltered after 42 d in combination with calcium sulfate at 37°C. CONCLUSIONS: Pharmaceutical-grade calcium sulfate has the potential for targeted local release of tobramycin, gentamicin, vancomycin, and rifampicin over a clinically meaningful time period.

Wagley S, Hemsley C, Thomas R, Moule MG, Vanaporn M, Andreae C, Robinson M, Goldman S, Wren BW, Butler CS, Titball RW. 2014. The twin arginine translocation system is essential for aerobic growth and full virulence of Burkholderia thailandensis. J Bacteriol, 196 (2), pp. 407-416. | Show Abstract | Read more

The twin arginine translocation (Tat) system in bacteria is responsible for transporting folded proteins across the cytoplasmic membrane, and in some bacteria, Tat-exported substrates have been linked to virulence. We report here that the Tat machinery is present in Burkholderia pseudomallei, B. mallei, and B. thailandensis, and we show that the system is essential for aerobic but not anaerobic growth. Switching off of the Tat system in B. thailandensis grown anaerobically resulted in filamentous bacteria, and bacteria showed increased sensitivity to some β-lactam antibiotics. In Galleria mellonella and zebrafish infection models, the Tat conditional mutant was attenuated. The aerobic growth-restricted phenotype indicates that Tat substrates may play a functional role in oxygen-dependent energy conservation. In other bacteria, aerobic growth restriction in Tat mutants has been attributed to the inability to translocate PetA, the Rieske iron-sulfur protein which forms part of the quinol-cytochrome c oxidoreductase complex. Here, we show that PetA is not responsible for aerobic growth restriction in B. thailandensis. However, we have identified an operon encoding 2 proteins of unknown function (BTH_I2176 and BTH_I2175) that play a role in aerobic growth restriction, and we present evidence that BTH_I2176 is Tat translocated.

Denman CC, Robinson MT, Sass AM, Mahenthiralingam E, Brown AR. 2014. Growth on mannitol-rich media elicits a genome-wide transcriptional response in Burkholderia multivorans that impacts on multiple virulence traits in an exopolysaccharide-independent manner. Microbiology, 160 (Pt 1), pp. 187-197. | Show Abstract | Read more

In common with other members of the Burkholderia cepacia complex (BCC), Burkholderia multivorans is capable of producing exopolysaccharide (EPS) when grown on certain mannitol-rich media. The significance of the resulting mucoid phenotype and the genome-wide response to mannitol has never been characterized despite its clinical relevance following the approval of a dried-powder preparation of mannitol as an inhaled osmolyte therapy for cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. In the present study we defined the transcriptional response of B. multivorans ATCC 17616, a model genome-sequenced strain of environmental origin, to growth on mannitol-rich yeast extract media (MYEM). EPS-dependent and -independent impact of MYEM on virulence-associated traits was assessed in both strain ATCC 17616 and the CF isolate B. multivorans C1576. Our studies revealed a significant transcriptional response to MYEM encompassing approximately 23 % of predicted genes within the genome. Strikingly, this transcriptional response identified that EPS induction occurs in ATCC 17616 without the upregulation of the bce-I and bce-II EPS gene clusters, despite their pivotal role in EPS biosynthesis. Of approximately 20 differentially expressed putative virulence factors, 16 exhibited upregulation including flagella, ornibactin, oxidative stress proteins and phospholipases. MYEM-grown B. multivorans also exhibited enhanced motility, biofilm formation and epithelial cell invasion. In contrast to these potential virulence enhancements, MYEM-grown B. multivorans C1576 showed attenuated virulence in the Galleria mellonella infection model. All of the observed phenotypic responses occurred independently of EPS production, highlighting the profound impact that mannitol-based growth has on the physiology and virulence of B. multivorans.

Jefferies R, Morgan ER, Helm J, Robinson M, Shaw SE. 2011. Improved detection of canine Angiostrongylus vasorum infection using real-time PCR and indirect ELISA Parasitology Research, 109 (6), pp. 1577-1583. | Read more

Robinson MT, Morgan ER, Woods D, Shaw SE. 2010. The development of a qPCR assay to detect tick (Ixodida) DNA and its implementation for the study of tick-borne pathogen transmission. Exp Parasitol, 126 (4), pp. 506-509. | Show Abstract | Read more

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis is regularly used to detect pathogens within arthropod vectors, but has also been applied to investigate vector DNA. This study details a novel highly sensitive quantitative PCR (qPCR) which detects and quantifies DNA from Ixodes ricinus, the European vector of Anaplasma phagocytophilum. By pairing this with a qPCR to detect A. phagocytophilum, valid comparisons of pathogen load can be made between different sized tick-tissue samples. These qPCRs were validated in I. ricinus that were fed A. phagocytophilum-infected blood using an artificial membrane feeder. Pathogens were detected in the tick haemolymph within 36h, indicating that successful infection had taken place. This study illustrates the application of vector-targeted qPCRs to confirm and validate pathogen load in samples as part of investigations of vector-pathogen interactions.

Robinson MT, Morgan ER, Woods D, Shaw SE. 2010. Real-time and multiplex real-time polymerase chain reactions for the detection of Bartonella henselae within cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, samples. Med Vet Entomol, 24 (4), pp. 449-455. | Show Abstract | Read more

Bartonella henselae (Rhizobiales: Bartonellacae), the agent of cat-scratch disease, is an emerging bacterial pathogen which can be transmitted via infective faecal material of Ctenocephalides felis Bouché (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae). Worldwide, B. henselae has been identified in 1-53% of felines and 2.9-17.4% of fleas. Although culture is the routine method for detection, the procedure is time-consuming and is rarely used for isolation directly from flea vectors. The current study reports the development of a quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) to detect and quantify B. henselae organisms from vector samples. The qPCR is specific and detects as few as 2.5 genome copies. To enable direct quantification of Bartonella organisms in different vector samples, we developed a qPCR to detect C. felis DNA that also acts as an extraction control. Combining both PCRs into a multiplex format validates B. henselae results when sampling flea populations, although there is a reduction in sensitivity. This reduction might be counteracted by a different combination of probe fluorophores.

Robinson MT, Shaw SE, Morgan ER. 2009. Anaplasma phagocytophilum infection in a multi-species deer community in the New Forest, England European Journal of Wildlife Research, 55 (4), pp. 439-442. | Read more

Robinson MT, Hillman T, Langton DA, Shaw SE. 2009. Bartonella clarridgeiae in a cat in the UK. Vet Rec, 164 (2), pp. 58-59. | Read more