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Professor Timothy Bull

Professor in Cell and Molecular Biology
Reader in Cellular & Molecular Biology, Infection and Immunity Research Institute

Dr Tim Bull is a Reader in Cellular and Molecular Biology in the Infection and Immunity Research Institute

Dr Bull joined St George’s in 1996 as a Wellcome Research Fellow and specialises in research on the role of mycobacteria in human and animal disease.

Prior to gaining his PhD at Imperial College in 1995 Dr Bull worked in a number of medical microbiology and virology laboratories around London including The Royal Free London NHS Foundation TrustChelsea and Westminster, Charing Cross, and Hammersmith Hospitals as a biomedical scientist.

He holds a PGCert in Healthcare Education, has a BSc. in Biological Sciences and uniquely has two Special Fellowships with the Institute of Medical Laboratory Sciences (Medical Microbiology and Virology).

He has held the position of Associate Dean of the SGUL Biological Research Facility.

He is an associate editor for the international journal Gut Pathogens and is expert scientific advisor to several associations.

He has served on the Italian National Scientific Excellence committee (REF/GEV - Italia) as an International evaluator.

He has been at the forefront of mycobacterial research into the pathogen Mycobacterium paratuberculosis for 15 years and has been principal investigator in both large collaborative EU programs and UK BBSRC funded studies on this topic.

He is director and chairman of TiKa Diagnostics, a SGUL spin-out company selling innovative mycobacterial tools to diagnose Tuberculosis and other mycobacteria in animals and humans developed from his own research.

He is a full member of the UK Acid Fast Club.

Dr Bull’s research concentrates on the role of mycobacterial infection in animals in humans. His early research developed novel methods for detecting and characterising the animal pathogen Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP). Many of these are now used as standard practice in laboratories worldwide. His work was one of the first to establish a link between MAP infection and Crohn’s disease (CD) and he has published and lectured widely on this topic.

He was the first to design, construct, validate and successfully test in large animal trials, a novel viral delivery vaccine able to generate effective protection against Johne’s Disease (MAP infection) in cattle. This vaccine is currently being tested for safety and efficacy in humans with the aim of forming an adjunct therapy against Crohn’s Disease.

His recent work has concentrated on the development and use of a unique set of short cationic peptides that show extraordinary ability to influence the growth characteristics of mycobacteria. Pathogenic mycobacteria grow very slowly and survive for long periods after infection by going dormant and stopping dividing altogether. However, they are still able to subvert host immune mechanisms and cause disease. Culturing organisms that are programmed not to grow is thus one of the major difficulties in mycobacterial diagnostics. Dr Bull’s was the discoverer or these peptides and has carried out a series of investigations that was able to determine their mechanism of action and to optimise their potential in culture media. The peptides (called TiKa) when used in a novel medium have been shown in collaborative studies, to be able to double the recovery rate and significantly decrease (by weeks) the time to detection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (cause of Tuberculosis in humans) and Mycobacterium bovis (cause of Tuberculosis in cattle).  In his research, Dr Bull has further developed sample processing techniques that allow very difficult, highly contaminated samples like faeces, to be studied reliably for the first time. Obtaining good respiratory specimens from very young children with Tuberculosis is traumatic and difficult. They do however swallow their secretions containing the pathogen and excrete in their faeces. Current clinical studies are underway evaluating the ability of TiKa peptides to allow this type of non-invasive surveillance to be diagnostically valuable.

Furthemore the ability of these peptides to awaken mycobacteria present in very low numbers has also been trialled in blood samples. A recently completed study carried out by Dr Bull in collaboration with other research groups in N.Ireland and the USA was able to use TiKa to culture MAP from the blood of up to 40% of patients with Crohn’s Disease. This unprecedented rate of recovery, once confirmed in parallel studies, will strengthen the link further between MAP infection and inflammatory bowel disease and the test, using TiKa, could aid monitoring the efficacy of novel therapeutic treatment studies that are being planned.

  • 2019-2020 (£22,000) Collaborative project with APHA, UK:  Improving diagnosis of M.bovis in cattle and the UK badger
  • ($10,000) HumanPara Foundation, USA: Isolation and characterisation of M.paratuberculosis from patients with Crohn’s Disease
  • 2018-2019. (£14,000) Collaborative Research Project (Statens Institut, Denmark & Norwegan Veterinary Institute Oslo): Development of a novel vaccine against Johne’s Disease in goats
  • 2016-2018. (£ 350,000) InnovateUK TS/M009068/1: Innovative rapid culture media for mycobacterial detection in animals
  • 2015-2017. (£ 80,148) William Harvey International Translational Research Academy award: Development of rapid enhancers of Mycobacterial growth.
  • 2015-2016. (£ 992,416) SBRI Healthcare Better Health Outcomes Award. Phase II : Improving rapid diagnosis of mycobacterial infections.
  • 2014-2015. (£ 80,934) SBRI Healthcare Better Health Outcomes Award. Phase I : Improving rapid diagnosis of mycobacterial infections.
  • 2013-2014. (£ 7,000) SGUL Impact and Innovation Award. Novel rapid growth inducers for Mycobacteria.
  • 2010-2013. (£ 711,682) BBSRC Research Grant: BB/H010718/1 –Immunity, safety and protection of an Adenovirus-Prime:MVA-Boost vaccine against Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis.
  • 2007-2011. (€ 3,940,088) EU 6th Program STREP project. ParaTBtools: Development of tools for the detection and surveillance of Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis.

Most Recent Collaborations

Professor Giovanna Batoni, University of Pisa, Italy

Professor Richard Delahay, Animal and Plant Health Agency, Woodchester Park, UK

Professor Irene Grant, Queen’s University, Belfast, UK

Professor Gregers Jungersen, Statens Institute, Denmark

Dr Catherine Cosgrove, Vaccine Institute, St George’s University Hospital Trust

Dr Daniel Forton, Hepatology and Gastroenetrology, St George’s University Hospital Trust

Dr Kai Hilpert, Institute for Infection and Immunity, SGUL

Dr Tone Johansen, Norwegian Veterinary Institute, Norway

Dr Todd Kuenstner, Temple University, Philadelphia, USA

Professor Saleh Naser, University of Central Florida, USA

Dr Sandrine Lesellier, Animal and Plant Health Agency, Weybridge, UK

Dr Jason Sawyer, Animal and Plant Health Agency, Weybridge, UK

Dr Bull teaches on MBBS Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Graduate courses; delivering lectures, laboratory teaching practicals and tutorials within the Clinical Pathology Specialities, Clinical Pharmacology and the Blueprint Infection and Immunity modules. He also contributes to the Graduate skills course. He is a long standing member of the animal research ethics committee (AWERB) and the genetically modified organism safety committee (GMSC). He has been senior supervisor on over 20 student projects at BSc, Mres and PhD level and has been examiner of over 30 undergraduate projects and MPhil/PhD transfers. He has been invited external examiner on 4 PhD projects and Viva chairman on 2 PhD projects.

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