Malaria project in NHMRC's top ten

Burnet Institute

20 December, 2013

L to R: (back row) Professor Geoff McFadden, Professor Graham Brown, Professor Louis Schofield L to R: (front row) Dr Malcolm McConville, Dr Emanuela Handman, Professor Alan Cowman, Professor Brendan Crabb

A collaborative project between the Walter and Eliza Hall (WEHI) and Burnet Institutes has been recognised as being one of NHMRC’s Ten of the Best Research Projects of 2013.

The Ten of the Best Research Projects booklet profiles some of the work done by NHMRC-funded researchers who are leading the way in finding innovative solutions to some of the world’s greatest health challenges.

Led by WEHI’s Professor Alan Cowman the team, which includes Burnet Director and CEO, Professor Brendan Crabb, is working to better understand the ways malaria and leishmaniasis parasites survive and prosper in humans.

The World Health Organization estimates there is around 12 million cases and 60,000 deaths from leishmaniasis each year and almost 220 million cases of malaria.

Professor Cowman and his team are investigating at how those parasites cause the diseases and the way the immune system fights them.

They are now able to understand the important chemical structures of the surface of the parasites.

“We have unravelled the mystery of the metabolic pathways of the parasite to find proteins that might be susceptible targets for new drugs or vaccines,” he said.

The team’s most significant discovery so far is that the family of parasites that malaria belongs to evolved from photosynthetic algae, which lived inside animals such as corals, jellyfish, anemones and molluscs. About 450 million years ago, this group of algae transitioned to parasitism.

“Using this new insight into the origins of the malaria parasite, we hope to find new ways to kill the parasites based on their ancient plant-like ancestry.”

CLICK HERE to read more about Professor Cowman and Professor Crabb’s research and the other NHMRC’s Ten of the Best Projects.

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