phil Spence

Phil studied immunology at Glasgow (BSc) and Cambridge (PhD), where he spent most of his time exploring mechanisms of immune tolerance (how our immune cells ignore harmless microbes and even our own tissues to keep us alive).

Phil moved into malaria research in 2008, and more than 100-years after the discovery that mosquitoes transmit malaria he showed that mosquitoes also regulate disease severity. They do this be resetting expression of the virulence genes that allow malaria parasites to adapt to and damage their mammalian host.

In 2013, Phil moved to Edinburgh to ask how the host in turn learns to live with malaria parasites. Although not harmless, they can trigger an immune response that does far more harm than good and it is increasingly clear that infants quickly learn to tolerate malaria parasites (if you can’t get rid of them at least don’t kill yourself trying).

We explore immune decision-making in human malaria and believe that by studying how children learn to tolerate malaria parasites, we can develop strategies to minimise disease & reduce mortality.


Wiebke Nahrendorf

Wiebke is no stranger to malaria immunology, having completed her EviMalaR PhD in the labs of Jean Langhorne (NIMR, London, UK) and Robert Sauerwein (Radboud UMC Nijmegen, The Netherlands). As a Postdoc in the Spence lab she is now using expertise from working with the P. chabaudi mouse model and human volunteers experimentally infected with malaria (as well as the force) to understand how the innate immune system shapes and is shaped by malaria infection.

When she is not in the lab, Wiebke is probably drinking gin while watching a play in the theatre, trying to find much needed peace practicing yoga or just puts her head under water completely – diving in the cold, cold waters of Scotland.


Diana munoz sandoval

Diana completed her undergrad course in Biotechnology with a sub-specialization in microbiology at San Francisco de Quito University (USFQ)-Ecuador. After graduating she worked as a research technician as a part of the Eco Dess project, a joint research venture between USFQ and the University of Michigan. Diana then moved to London to pursue a master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences at King´s College before heading NORTH to join the Spence lab. In her PhD, Diana is investigating human immune decision-making in falciparum malaria.

When not in the lab, she is probably trying to practice some squash or enjoying gin whilst dancing away. 

Florian Bach

Florian did his undergrad in Virology at the University of Glasgow, mostly focusing on molecular biology/biochemistry of viruses and protists. After two fun summer projects in Lilach Sheiner's lab he joined the Hosts, Pathogens and Global Health PhD programme at the University of Edinburgh. After rotating through labs working on small RNA biology to the ecology of ageing, Florian decided that malaria immunology was the most exciting puzzle for a PhD. His research investigates acquired immunity to vivax malaria in the first controlled human malaria reinfection studies of the modern era.

When not in the lab you can find Florian at gigs and, of course, sampling gins (for the quinine, naturally).


Margaret ZHAO

Margaret is an undergraduate studying Biomedical Sciences (BSc) at the University of Edinburgh. She became interested in malaria when writing a paper on Nobel Prize winner Tu Youyou and her discovery of artemisinin. In the lab she worked with Diana to determine if differences in human innate immune responses could be preserved in in vitro conditions. She hopes to pursue further study in infectious disease or immunology after her undergraduate degree. 

When not in the lab, Margaret is probably baking, studying in the library, or obligatorily drinking gin. 


Ronnie is in charge of the Ashworth insectary and breeds the biggest, hungriest shrimps we've ever seen! Ronnie was trained by David Walliker and (apart from a brief detour with burying beetles) has worked for the last 20-years with many of the top malaria groups in Edinburgh.

Ronnie looks after our mosquitoes, supports our model organism research, trains our new students, answers the film questions at the pub quiz and is our first go-to in any emergency. Outside the lab, Jackpot Ron leads the snooker allstars, sports a Roma shirt at 5-a-side and films his adverntures dry fly fishing. No gin, please - just a bottle of beer and some Northern Soul.