Throughout its complex lifecycle the malaria parasites, from the genus Plasmodium, must traverse tissues and invade a diversity of host cells to ensure successful propagation of their lifecycle. Each lifecycle stage is exquisitely designed for cell movement, tissue targeting and host cell invasion, yet we still do not understand the basic mechanics of how parasite's navigate their remarkable journey through the mosquito and human tissues.
With access to one of the only containment level 3 facilities with adjacent mosquito insectaries in the UK, our lab is focused on understanding the fundamental biology of the malaria parasite cell across its lifecycle. Critically, our work focusses on Plasmodium falciparum the most deadly of the parasites that affects humans, responsible for nearly 0.5 million child deaths each year.
Our core work is focussed on three areas of work:
- Fundamental discovery science: focussed on the cell biology of the infectious stages of the malaria parasite, the blood stage merozoite, the sexual stage gametocyte and the highly motile sporozoite stage. Using advanced microscopy, molecular biology and most recently single-cell RNA sequencing, we hope to build a complete genetic through cellular atlas of what defines the infectious parasite. See example here.
- Diagnostics: Working with colleagues across Imperial College in Medicine and Engineering, we are helping to develop point-of-care diagnostics not just to diagnose malaria infection, but to provide more nuanced information about drug resistance, transmissibility and record this data for epidemiological mapping - aiming to inform national malaria control programs. See example here.
- Vaccine science: Something we are perhaps most passionate about is a malaria vaccine. Despite more than 50 years there is still no licensed, broadly efficacious vaccine for malaria. We are working with colleagues across College and internationally to push novel vaccine strategies targeting both the whole parasite (our focus is the sporozoite stage) or subunit vaccines based on new innovations in in silico data mining and antigen presentation. Working with partners, we don't want to just talk the talk of vaccines, we want to walk it to. See example here.
Ultimately our goal is to break apart Plasmodium cell biology and find new ways to define and prevent malaria infection. There has never been a better or more important time to bring the entirety of our research strength and help move the world towards malaria eradication.
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