Meet the Scientist - Professor Robert E. B. Hanna

Date published: 24 January 2017

Area of Expertise:

This month Professor Robert E. B. Hanna talks about his role in AFBI.

I graduated from Queen’s University, Belfast in 1970 with a BSc in Zoology, and completed a PhD on ‘Cytological studies on Fasciola hepatica’ at QUB in 1973.   From 1973 until 1976, I was Head of Parasitology in the East African Veterinary Research Organisation, Kenya, working under the British Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) scheme.  Following a year as Research Fellow in the Department of Zoology, Imperial College, London, I joined Queen’s University, Belfast and worked there until 1989 as a Lecturer in Zoology.

During my time at QUB my research interests centred on immunity to Fasciola (liver fluke), and on structural and epidemiological studies of worm parasites in ruminants. I established academic links and interchange between QUB and several universities in India, including, in particular, Aligarh Muslim University and the University of Madras.

Subsequently, I undertook veterinary studies in University College Dublin, graduating in 1993. From 1993 until 1999 I worked as a vet in a mixed practice in County Down.

Professor Hanna pictured with Paul-Emile Kajugu, a PhD student and Scientific Officer in the Parasitology Lab at AFBI Veterinary Sciences Division
Professor Hanna pictured with Paul-Emile Kajugu, a PhD student and Scientific Officer in the Parasitology Lab at AFBI Veterinary Sciences Division
Since 1999 I have worked as a Veterinary Research Officer in the Veterinary Sciences Division at Stormont. My duties comprise mainly diagnostic pathology and histopathology, and my research interests are centred in Parasitology, particularly collaborative studies with colleagues in QUB on anthelmintic resistance in Fasciola. 

For me, the most enjoyable aspect of working in VSD is the close co-operation I enjoy with my immediate colleagues, each of whom has their own particular expertise, in arriving at the most accurate possible result for a difficult diagnostic or surveillance case. That is very satisfying. The same applies in the research with which I am involved. It is always a genuinely co-operative undertaking, with each team member contributing in a unique way to ensure the validity and relevance of the results, and ultimately scientific progression in the field.

I teach Veterinary Parasitology at Queen’s University, having held a Readership from 2004 to 2012 and a Professorship from 2012 until present, and continue involvement with academic links between QUB and Indian academic institutes. As a result, I was awarded an Adjunct Professorship in Biotechnology by Madras University 2004.

I have been author or co-author of around 200 peer-reviewed research articles, reviews, book chapters, and technology transfer articles.

I gained a Fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists in 2008, a Fellowship of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in 2014, a Diploma of the European Veterinary Parasitology College in 2006.  I was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science by Queen’s University in 2016 for a thesis comprising research papers and reviews, published since 1975, on the structure, function, biology and control of liver flukes and other parasitic worms of veterinary importance.

Facts about Professor Hanna:

  • I am one of the team of vets and scientists involved in post-mortem examination and histopathology on predominantly farm animals, as well as some wildlife and zoo species for disease diagnosis and statutory disease surveillance.
  • I am a member of the joint QUB/VSD Parasitology research team. Our focus is surveillance and diagnosis of resistance to anthelmintic drugs in the parasites of farm animals, and also, more recently, development of anti-parasite vaccines.
  • I am one of two electron microscopists at VSD. We operate a new Transmission Electron Microscope, using it mainly for identification of viruses, and for research on parasites, particularly liver fluke.
  • I was for 14 years a lecturer in Zoology at QUB, teaching physiology, marine biology and Parasitology. I still retain links with the university, giving lectures each year in Veterinary Parasitology and helping to supervise undergraduate and post-graduate research projects.
  • I was a vet in a general practice (farm and companion animals) for 6 years before joining VSD in 1999.

Interesting facts about Professor Hanna

Q.1 Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?

My PhD supervisor from many years ago. He was an inspirational teacher, and is an innovative thinker and impressively talented artist. Now in his 90s, he has just published another book full of magnificent hand illustrations, colour and 3D, on fish vision. We always have plenty to talk about.

Q. 2 If you weren’t in your current position what job/career would you like to be doing?

Overseas aid programme relating to animal health/welfare. If I’d had to choose earlier in my career, I might have studied Palaeontology rather than Zoology.

Q. 3 What are your hobbies?

Classical music, especially pipe organ; palaeontology; travel and wildlife photography (i.e. holiday snaps - not professional standard!)

Q.4 What unique fact(s) do we not know about you?

I am an enthusiastic traveller. I worked with VSO in Kenya for several years – helping set up a veterinary diagnostic lab and teaching. I have also lived and worked in India off and on since 1980 and love the place.

As an impecunious post-doctoral research fellow at Imperial College, I lived for nearly a year in a garden shed in Wimbledon, without heating or indoor facilities – definitely the worst place I have stayed anywhere in the world!

Q.5 What is the most exciting thing you have ever done?

I am lucky – there have been many highs. Recently, watching and photographing wild bears (grizzly and polar) in Canada; climbing Mts Kenya and Kilimanjaro was special, as was travelling through the Karakorum range from Kashmir to Ladakh by local bus and army lorry.

Notes to editors: 

AFBI carries out high quality technology research and development, statutory, analytical, and diagnostic testing functions for DAERA and other Government departments, public bodies and commercial companies. 

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