Malaria is a disease caused by parasites from the genus Plasmodia that are transmitted to humans by Anopheles mosquitoes. Two related parasite species cause the majority of disease and death from malaria in humans. They are Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax. P. falciparum is the more lethal of the two and is prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to the 2013 World Malaria Report, 3.4 billion people (almost half of the world’s population) are at risk of malaria, and in 2013 it caused an estimated 584 000 deaths mostly among African children. However, malaria mortality rates among children in Africa have been reduced by an estimated 58% since 2000.
Symptoms of malaria include fever, headache, and vomiting, and usually appear between 10 and 15 days after the mosquito bite. If not treated, malaria can quickly become life-threatening by disrupting the blood supply to vital organs including the brain. In many parts of the world, the parasites have developed resistance to a number of malaria medicines.
Malaria has a complex lifecycle which involves sexual reproduction in the female Anopheles mosquito, and asexual reproduction in human hepatocytes (liver cells) and erythrocytes (red blood cells). This complexity makes creating effective therapeutics and vaccines challenging. Increasing resistance to anti-malarial drugs is also having an impact on treatment in endemic regions.
WCIP research focus
WCIP Research Focus:
Research at the Centre examines molecular mechanisms of sexual stage development in the malarial parasite. We use a rodent malaria model (Plasmodium berghei) that allows us to study the parasite’s life cycle in its entirety both in vitro and in vivo. In particular, we are focussing on the following:
- What triggers commitment to gametogenesis (sexual reproduction)?
- Role of translational repression and signal transduction pathways regulating gamete to ookinete development.
- Effects of host metabolism during the erythrocytic life-cycle of Plasmodium.
- Examination of gene/protein function at multiple stages of the parasite’s life-cycle.
- Different aspects of Plasmodium falciparum gametocytes - which are the sexual stage parasites required for transmission of malaria from humans to mosquitos?
- Interactions between these sexual stage parasites and host cells.
Key WCIP publications
Naturally acquired immunity against immature Plasmodium falciparum gametocytes (2019), Science Translational Medicine, DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aav3963
Plasmodium gametocytes display homing and vascular transmigration in the host bone marrow (2018), Science Advances, DOI:10.1126/sciadv.aat3775
Lysophosphatidylcholine Regulates Sexual Stage Differentiation in the Human Malaria Parasite Plasmodium falciparum (2017), Cell, DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.10.020
A.P. A cascade of DNA binding proteins for sexual commitment and development in Plasmodium (2014), Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature12970