Dr Kelly Johnston

Post Doctoral Research Associate

I obtained an MSci degree in Parasitology from the University of Glasgow, which included a 12-month work placement in Moredun Research Institute, Edinburgh. Here, I was involved in the development and implementation of a survey used to analyse the prevalence of anthelmintic resistance in sheep farms across Scotland. I joined Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine on a Wellcome Trust Prize Studentship, during which I investigated the interactions of Wolbachia bacteria with eukaryotic cells. This incorporated research in cell biology and immunology. Following the award of my PhD I have continued my research on Wolbachia within the Filariasis Research group as a Post-Doctoral Research Associate.


My main research focus is in drug discovery for filarial parasites. I have been a key member of the A∙WOL (Anti-Wolbachia) Drug Discovery and Development team since its inception. My primary role was to develop an in vitro Wolbachia screening assay. The validated screen was then used to test tens of thousands of compounds, including the complete human pharmacopoeia against Wolbachia with several compounds since moving down the screening pipeline into other models as well as human trials. More recently, in my role as Molecular Analyst, I was responsible for co-ordinating the in vitro cell-based and worm-based screening activities and resulting data.
I was awarded a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as part of their Grand Challenges Explorations call for a validated surrogate model to aid the discovery of a macrofilaricide. The goal was to develop a filarial nematode cell line suitable for High Throughput Screening (HTS) assays. While viable cells could be retrieved from Brugia malayi, the cells did not proliferate. This success suggests there is scope to investigate immortalisation strategies in the future.

I am currently a Co-Investigator on the project ‘Drug target deconvolution in the obligate intracellular bacterium, Wolbachia: a chemical proteomic route to discovering novel antibacterial targets’. This project is utilising chemical biology techniques to identify the proteins targeted by selected anti-Wolbachia drugs with the aim of developing workflows and technologies to identify novel antibacterial targets and tools to monitor resistance.


Diploma of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (DTM&H): Deputy Theme Lead (Parasitology), Lecturer, Demonstrator and Examiner.
Diploma in Tropical Nursing (DTN): Lecturer.
Laboratory Diagnosis of Faecal and Blood Parasites: Lecturer.
Practical Skills in Tropical Medicine (LIFE236): Coordinator, Lecturer and Examiner.
Veterinary Parasitology (LIFE216): Lecturer
Chemotherapy of Human Parasitic Diseases (LIFE338): Lecturer
MSc Biology of Tropical Health, Pathogens and Vectors of Disease (TROP939): Lecturer, Demonstrator and Examiner.
Supervisor of BSc and MSc projects
Reviewer for Ethical Review process for MSc projects.
Personal Tutor for MSc courses.


Kelly is a fellow of Advance HE (formerly the Higher Education Academy)

Selected publications

  • Taylor MJ, von Geldern TW, Ford L, Hübner MP, Marsh K, Johnston KL, Sjoberg HT, Specht S, Pionnier N, Tyrer HE, Clare RH, Cook DAN, Murphy E, Steven A, Archer J, Bloemker D, Lenz F, Koschel M, Ehrens A, Metuge HM, Chunda VC, Ndongmo Chounna PW, Njouendou AJ, Fombad FF, Carr R, Morton HE, Aljayyoussi G, Hoerauf A, Wanji S, Kempf DJ, Turner JD, Ward SA (2019). Preclinical development of an oral anti-Wolbachia macrolide drug for the treatment of lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis. Science Translational Medicine 11: eaau2086.

    Hong WD, Benayoud F, Nixon GL, Ford L, Johnston KL, Clare RH, Cassidy A, Cook DAN, Siu A, Shiotani M, Webborn PJH, Kavanagh S, Aljayyoussi G, Murphy E, Steven A, Archer J, Struever D, Frohberger SJ, Ehrens A, Hübner MP, Hoerauf A, Roberts AP, Hubbard ATM, Tate EW, Serwa RA, Leung SC, Qie L, Berry NG, Gusovsky F, Hemingway J, Turner JD, Taylor MJ, Ward SA, O'Neill PM. (2019). AWZ1066S, a highly specific anti-Wolbachia drug candidate for a short-course treatment of filariasis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 116(4), 1414-1419.

    Clare RH, Bardelle C, Harper P, Hong WD, Börjesson U, Johnston KL, Collier M, Myhill L, Cassidy A, Plant D, Plant H, Clark R, Cook DAN, Steven A, Archer J, McGillan P, Charoensutthivarakul S, Bibby J, Sharma R, Nixon GL, Slatko BE, Cantin L, Wu B, Turner J, Ford L, Rich K, Wigglesworth M, Berry NG, O'Neill PM, Taylor MJ, Ward SA. (2019). Industrial scale high-throughput screening delivers multiple fast acting macrofilaricides. Nature Communications 10:11.

    Johnston KL, Cook DAN, Berry NG, Hong WD, Clare RC, Goddard M, Ford L, Nixon GL, O’Neill PM, Ward SA, Taylor MW. (2017). Identification and prioritization of novel anti-Wolbachia chemotypes from screening a 10,000-compound diversity library. Science Advances 3: eaao1551.

    Tamarozzi F, Turner JD, Pionnier N, Midgley A, Guimarães AF, Johnston KL, Edwards SW, Taylor MJ. (2016). Wolbachia endosymbionts induce neutrophil extracellular trap formation in human onchocerciasis. Scientific Reports 6:35559

    Johnston KL, Ford L, Umareddy I, Townson S, Specht S, Pfarr K, Hoerauf A, Altmeyer R, Taylor MJ. (2014). Repurposing of approved drugs from the human pharmacopoeia to target Wolbachia endosymbionts of onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis. International Journal of Parasitology Drugs and Drug Resistance 4(3):278-86.

    Johnston KL, Ford L, Taylor MJ. (2014). Overcoming the challenges of drug discovery for neglected tropical diseases: the A·WOL experience. Journal of Biomolecular Screening 19(3):335-43.

    Ioannidis P, Johnston KL, Riley DR, Kumar N, White JR, Olarte KT, Ott S, Tallon LJ, Foster JM, Taylor MJ, Dunning Hotopp JC. (2013). Extensively duplicated and transcriptionally active recent lateral gene transfer from a bacterial Wolbachia endosymbiont to its host filarial nematode Brugia malayi. BMC Genomics 14: 639.

    Johnston KL, Wu B, Guimarães A, Ford L, Slatko BE, Taylor MJ. (2010). Lipoprotein biosynthesis as a target for anti-Wolbachia treatment of filarial nematodes. Parasites and Vectors 3: 99.