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Cell Biologist Receives $1.7M NIH Grant to Study Malaria Parasite


 

Human red blood cells (top; and right of center) infected by the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum (the parasite is shown in purple). Newly formed parasites (left of center) are ready to invade new red blood cells. Photo credit: Le Roch lab.

Malaria parasite in human blood

Today, about half the world’s population lives in areas at risk of malaria transmission. The disease is transmitted to humans through bites from mosquitoes, and each year causes hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide, with about 1,500 of these in the United States.

The malaria-causing parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, is spread to people by the female Anopheles mosquito, which feeds on human blood. P. falciparum invades red blood cells, where it grows and multiplies. Eventually, the red blood cells burst, releasing into the bloodstream thousands of parasites that invade other red blood cells and continue the infection cycle.

Just how the human malaria parasite replicates itself inside red blood cells is, however, not well understood. Now a researcher at the University of California, Riverside has received a nearly $1.7 million four-year grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Institutes of Health, to address this question.

“If we manage to understand how the parasite multiplies in the red blood cells, we will be able to develop more effective strategies for combating malaria,” said Karine Le Roch, an assistant professor of cell biology and neuroscience and the grant’s principal investigator. “The long term goal is to devise new drug strategies against this devastating disease.”

Stefano Lonardi, an associate professor of computer science and engineering, will assist in the computational analysis of the massive amount of data produced by the sequencing instruments.

“The analysis pipeline is complex, but in the end we would like our software tools to generate a set of hypotheses of gene regulation for the malaria genome that Karine can test or validate in the lab,” Lonardi said.

The grant will support one technician, one postdoctoral researcher and one Ph.D. graduate student. An expert in proteomics and mass spectrometry from the Stowers Institute in Kansas will collaborate.

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