Department: Pathobiology and Population Sciences

Campus: Hawkshead

Research Groups: Host-Pathogen Interactions and Vaccinology, IRLFS (Research Programme)

Virginia is a Research Fellow at RVC focus in the development of new vaccines in the poultry sector by the implementation of molecular tools for gene editing into Eimeria parasites (coccidian) and the development of in vitro models to reduce the use of animals in the study of this parasite.

Virginia graduated in Spain in 2003 as Agronomic Engineer specialised in zootechnics (technology of animal husbandry) and biotechnology (Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, UPM). Before starting her postgraduate, she hold a studentship in bacteria proteomics in the Department of Biotechnology (UPM) and worked as research assistant in prion biology at the Centre for Research in Animal Health (CISA, INIA). She did her doctoral courses (MSc equivalent) in Veterinary Sciences (Universidad Complutense de Madrid, UCM) including modules in applied immunology, clinical microbiology and parasitology and microorganisms genomics and proteomics. Afterwards, she completed her PhD in the Department of Animal Health (UCM) in 2011, testing transgenic strains of Neospora caninum (Apicomplexa parasite) as live vaccines and identifying new vaccine targets by proteomic approaches. Thereafter, Virginia moved to The Royal Veterinary College as postdoctoral researcher in Professors Fiona Tomley and Damer Blake lab, working in different molecular parasitology and vaccine development of Eimeria species (Apicomplexa parasite). In 2017 she was appointed as Research Fellow in Vaccinology in the Department of Pathobiology and Population Sciences.

In addition, Virginia hold a Pedagogic Certificate (UCM, QTS equivalent) and is Associate in Higher Education Academy in Veterinary Education (RVC). She is expecting to complete the PG Certificate in Veterinary Education in the academic year 2018-2019.

Virginia’s current research is focus on the biology and control of Coccidia (Apicomplexa) parasites affecting animals and humans. To promote the first guiding principle for the ethical use of animals in sciences (the 3Rs) by replacing and reducing the use of animals, she is been developing a robust, rapid and quantitative high throughput in vitro assay for the evaluation of anti-parasitic effects of novel treatments (drugs, natural compounds, specific antibodies) in Eimeria tenella (causing coccidiosis in chickens). This assay combines quantitative PCR, reverse transcription qPCR and semi-automated analysis of images (funded by Houghton Trust Small Research Grant).

She leads research in transgenesis in E. tenella, developing protocols for the use of this parasite as delivery vector for antigens of other avian pathogens. She has detected humoral immune response in chicken immunised with Eimeria carrying antigens of the infectious bursal disease virus and the infectious laryngotracheitis virus, however, consistency and magnitude of immune response stimulated by transgenic Eimeria vaccination should be improved. For that, she has added targeting signals for delivery to the cell surface or secretion, which could to improve the exposition of the antigen and therefore its recognition (funded by the BBSRC BB/H020195/2). She has also used protein fusions with fluorescent reporters for protein localization in a single step that could significantly simplifying the conventional time-consuming procedures for protein characterization and avoiding the use of animals for the production of antibodies.

In addition, with the aim of producing reliable, good quality samples for detailed proteome and transcriptome studies she has optimised in vitro methods of infection and development for sporozoites of E. tenella and Toxoplasma gondii. She has standardised RNA interference and inhibition assays for the investigation of functional roles of parasite and host proteins identified in the previous approaches for identification of new therapeutic targets (funded by the BBSRC BB/L00299X).


Pastor-Fernandez I, Kim S, Billington K, Bumstead J, Marugan-Hernandez V, Kuster T, Ferguson DJP, Valverde L, Blake DP, Tomley FM. 2018. Development of cross-protective Eimeria-vectored vaccines based on apical membrane antigens. Int J Parasitol 48(7):505-518

Marugan-Hernandez V, Fiddy R, Nurse-Francis, J, Pritchard L, Smith O, Tomley FM. Characterization of a novel microneme adhesive repeats (MAR) in Eimeria tenella. 2017. Parasit Vectors 10(1):491

Marugan-Hernandez V. Neospora caninum and Bovine Neosporosis: Current Vaccine Research. 2017. J Comp Pathol 157(2-3)193-200

Marugan-Hernandez V, Long E, Blake D, Crouch C, Tomley, FM. Eimeria tenella protein trafficking: differential regulation of secretion versus surface tethering during the life cycle. 2017. Sci Rep 7(1)4557

Marugan-Hernandez V, Cockle C, Macdonald S, Pegg E, Crouch C, Blake D, Tomley FM. 2016. Viral proteins expressed in the protozoa parasite Eimeria tenella are detected by the chicken immune system. 2017. Parasit Vectors 9:463

Pastor-Fernández I, Regidor-Cerrillo J, Álvarez-García G, Marugán-Hernández V, Garcia-Lunar, P, Hemphill A, Ortega-Mora LM. 2016. The tandemly repeated NTPase (NTPDase) from Neospora caninum is a canonical dense granule protein whose RNA expression, protein secretion and phosphorylation coincides with the tachyzoite egress. Parasit Vectors 9(1):352

Pastor-Fernández I, Regidor-Cerrillo J, Jiménez-Ruiz E, Álvarez-García G, Marugán-Hernández V, Hemphill A, Ortega-Mora LM. 2016. Characterization of the Neospora caninum NcROP40 and NcROP2Fam-1 rhoptry proteins during the tachyzoite lytic cycle. Parasitology 143(1):97-113

Fernández-García A, Alvarez-García G, Marugán-Hernández V, García-Lunar P, Aguado-Martínez A, Risco-Castillo V, Ortega-Mora LM. 2013. Identification of Besnoitia besnoiti proteins that showed differences in abundance between tachyzoite and bradyzoite stages by difference gel electrophoresis. Parasitology 140(8):999-1008

Jiménez-Ruiz E, Alvarez-García G, Aguado-Martínez A, Salman H, Irache JM, Marugán-Hernández V, Ortega-Mora LM. 2012. Low efficacy of NcGRA7, NcSAG4, NcBSR4 and NcSRS9 formulated in poly-ε-caprolactone against Neospora caninum infection in mice. Vaccine 30(33):4983-92

Regidor-Cerrillo J, Álvarez-García G, Pastor-Fernández I, Marugán-Hernández V, Gómez-Bautista M, Ortega-Mora LM. 2012. Proteome expression changes among virulent and attenuated Neospora caninum isolates. J Proteomics 75(8):2306-18

Marugán-Hernández V, Ortega-Mora L.M, Aguado-Martínez A, Jiménez-Ruíz E, Álvarez-García G. 2011. Transgenic Neospora caninum strains proved to be safe and conferred significant levels of protection against vertical transmission when used as live vaccines in mice. Vaccine 29(44):7867-74

Marugán-Hernández V, Álvarez-García G, Tomley F, Hemphill A, Regidor-Cerrillo J, Ortega-Mora L.M. 2011. Identification of novel rhoptry proteins in Neospora caninum by LC/MS-MS analysis of subcellular fractions. J Proteomics 74(5):629-42

Marugán-Hernández V., Ortega-Mora, L.M., Aguado-Martínez A., Álvarez-García G. 2011. Genetic manipulation of Neospora caninum to express the bradyzoite-specific protein NcSAG4 in tachyzoites.. Parasitology 138(4):472-80

Marugán-Hernández V, Alvarez-García G, Risco-Castillo V, Regidor-Cerrillo J, Ortega-Mora LM. 2010. Identification of Neospora caninum proteins regulated during the differentiation process from tachyzoite to bradyzoite stage by DIGE. Proteomics 10(9):1740-50

Aguado-Martínez A, Alvarez-García G, Fernández-García A, Risco-Castillo V, Marugán-Hernández V, Ortega-Mora LM. 2009. Failure of a vaccine using immunogenic recombinant proteins rNcSAG4 and rNcGRA7 against neosporosis in mice. Vaccine. 27(52):7331-8


Pastor-Fernandez I, Marugan-Hernandez V, Kim S, Valverde L, Tomley FM, Blake DP. Coccidiosis in poultry: development of Eimeria as vaccine vectors to streamline anticoccidial vaccination. European Coccidiosis Discussion Group. London, UK. May 2018 (Oral communication)

Pastor-Fernandez I, Kim S, Billington K, Bumstead J, Marugan-Hernandez V, Kuster T, Ferguson DJP, Valverde L, Blake DP, Tomley FM. Multivalent Eimeria-vectored oral vaccines for poultry. International Veterinary Vaccinology Network Meeting. Nairobi, Kenia. March 2018 (Poster)

Burrell A, Vaughan S, Marugan-Hernandez V, Tomley F.M. 'Quantifying subcellular structure and organelle dynamics of the Eimeria tenella sporozoite. Annual conference of the Brazilian society of Protozoology. Caxambu, Brazil. November 2017 (Oral communication)

Randle N, Marugan-Hernandez V, Xia D, Blake D, Tomley F, Wastling J. An integrated model of host-parasite interactions in Coccidian parasites. 4th International Meeting on Apicomplexa in Farm Animals. Madrid, Spain. October 2017 (Oral communication)

Pastor-Fernández, I, Marugan-Hernandez V, Tomley FM, Blake DP. Coccidiosis in poultry: development of Eimeria as vaccine vectors to streamline anticoccidial vaccination. 4th International Meeting on Apicomplexa in Farm Animals. Madrid, Spain. October 2017 (Oral communication)

Burrell A, Vaughan S, Marugan-Hernandez V, Tomley F.M. The three-dimensional ultrastructure of Eimeria tenella sporozoites. 4th International Meeting on Apicomplexa in Farm Animals. Madrid, Spain. October 2017 (Oral communication)

Pastor-Fernández I, Marugan-Hernandez V, Tomley FM, Blake DP. Targeting transgenic antigen expression to optimise Eimeria parasites as vaccine delivery vectors. 12th International Coccidiosis Conference. San Antonio, Texas, US. June 2017 (Keynote)

Marugan-Herandez V, Cockle C, Macdonald S, Pegg E, Crouch C, Blake D.P, Tomley F.M. Eimeria tenella as potential vaccine vehicle for viral antigens. 3rd International Symposium on Parasite Infections in Poultry. Vienna, Austria. June 2016 (Oral Poster & Poster)

Burrell A, Vaughan S, Marugan-Hernandez V, Tomley F.M. Defining the detailed structure of Eimeria sporozoites using serial block face scanning electron microscopy. 3rd International Symposium on Parasite Infections in Poultry. Vienna, Austria. June 2016 (Poster)

Virginia co-supervise a PhD student (Alana Burrell) working in the application of powerful 3D imaging methods, in particular serial block face-scanning electron microscopy (SBF-SEM) and electron tomography (ET), alongside conventional imaging techniques to study in detail the processes of E. tenella invasion and intracellular growth (funded by RVC Internal PhD Studentship). She has also supervised several undergraduate research projects associated to some of her research lines (BSc Biological/Bioveterinary Sciences, BSc in Comparative Pathology and BBSRC Research Experience Placements) and participate in other teaching activities (tutor of undergraduate students, facilitator in directed learning sessions and practicals).

  • Development of a poultry vaccine platform based on transgenic coccidia parasites and evaluation of immunoprotection against necrotic enteritis

    The sustainability of poultry meat and egg global production, paramount to respond the worldwide demand for food, is challenged by poultry enteric diseases such as coccidiosis and necrotic enteritis.

    his project aimed to develop a vaccine platform based on Eimeria parasites to protect chickens against pathogens of different origin. The first use to generate a prototype and evaluate a specific product against the re-emerging disease necrotic enteritis is expected to have future applications that could have a direct impact in human health by the targeting of zoonotic organisms that transfer disease from chickens to human, and which have importance in both high income and low-and-middle income countries (e.g. Campylobacter, Salmonella).

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