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Dr Christopher R HelpsB.Sc., Ph.D.(Bristol)

Associate Professor in Veterinary Molecular Genetics

Christopher Helps

Dr Christopher R HelpsB.Sc., Ph.D.(Bristol)

Associate Professor in Veterinary Molecular Genetics

Member of

Research interests

My research interests have focused on the use of novel molecular techniques for the detection and quantification of feline infectious organisms and the detection of nucleotide polymorphisms causing feline genetic diseases. 

Biography

I graduated in 1989 with a first class degree in Biochemistry, which was followed by a 3 year Wellcome Trust PhD and a 2 year Wellcome Trust Research Fellowship, all in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Bristol. I moved to Bristol Veterinary School in 1995 as a Research Associate and was promoted to Research Fellow in 2001 and Senior Research Fellow in 2007. I was Postgraduate Director (Research) in the Bristol Veterinary School between 2005 and 2009, where I was responsible for admissions and progress monitoring of PhD and MSc students. I moved to Langford Vets in 2009 to Head the Molecular Diagnostic Unit that I had setup and managed since 2001. The Unit currently runs 61 molecular assays for infectious and genetic diseases of cats and dogs. In 2018 I was promoted to Honorary Reader (Associate Professor) in Veterinary Molecular Genetics in Bristol Veterinary School and in 2019 I became Diagnostic Laboratories Lead, Langford Vets. 

I have 30 years’ molecular biology experience and have published 143 scientific papers, 144 scientific abstracts, 483 Genbank sequences and been involved with over £3M of research grants. I have an H-index of 38 and i10-index of 114 and have successfully supervised 10 PhD students (4 international) and 5 postdoctoral scientists; 3 PhD students won prizes for their studies. My research interests have focused on the use of novel molecular techniques for the detection and quantification of feline infectious organisms and the detection of nucleotide polymorphisms causing feline genetic diseases.

I was awarded the international British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) Amoroso Award in 2008 for 'Outstanding Contributions to Small Animal Studies by a Non-Clinical Member of University Staff' and was runner-up in the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy People's Awards 2016 for The Christina Dugdale Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Cat Fancy’.

I was lead author for a REF2014 Impact Case Study Worldwide feline health is improved due to molecular research undertaken at the University of Bristol that was rated 4*. It was also noted by the REF panel that “improving feline health was judged to be outstanding”.

I lead the Molecular Diagnostic Unit at Langford Vets and I am responsible for the research and development of new diagnostic PCR assays for the detection of infectious and genetic diseases in cats and dogs. The Unit has run over 280,000 tests that have generated over £8M of income for the University of Bristol. I also lead the Diagnostic Laboratories at Langford Vets, which employ 27 members of staff. 

Research keywords

  • Real-time polymerase chain reaction
  • Infectious diseases
  • Genetic diseases
  • Pyrosequencing

Research findings

Feline genetic diseases

Through international collaboration we have recently completed genome wide association studies to identify several new disease causing mutations in cats. These include hypokalaemia in the Burmese breed and pyruvate kinase deficiency in Abyssinian and related breeds. The graph below shows the effect of genetic testing and selective breeding on the prevalence of the mutation causing polycystic kidney disease between 2005 and 2018.

Percentage of cats testing positive for the polycystic kidney disease mutation

Feline haemoplasma infections

Haemoplasmas are bacteria that can induce haemolytic anaemia in a range of host species.  Most of our studies centre on the feline haemoplasmas but we have carried out research on a range of haemoplasma species including canine, rodent and human species. Our research has focused on: the development of novel real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assays and serological tests to detect and quantify haemoplasma infection, the phylogeny of haemoplasmas, the pathogenesis of the haemoplasma-associated anaemia and genomic studies. 

Feline coronavirus infections

Feline coronavirus (FCoV) infection is very common in cats and can lead to the serious disease of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). The Bristol Feline Coronavirus (BFC) Group is actively committed to further research in this field to ultimately help the diagnosis and prevention of this distressing disease.  Current research involves the development of reliable diagnostic tests for the definitive diagnosis of FIP and deriving genome sequences of field coronavirus isolates. 

Teaching

Between 2005 and 2015 I ran two courses for post-graduate students in the Faculty:

  • Use of real-time quantitative PCR and RT-PCR in veterinary and medical research
  • Designing primers and probes for quantitative PCR: a hands-on approach

Between 2003 and 2009 I gave lectures to the third year Veterinary Pathogenesis students.

View research connections

Postal address:
Langford House
Langford
Bristol
United Kingdom