Malaria is directly responsible for around half a million deaths per annum worldwide, causing terrible suffering and imposing an immense economic burden on much of the developing world.
There is no malaria vaccine, and resistance against mainstay antimalarial drugs is widespread. There is a need to find new ways to treat and control this devastating disease.
The malaria parasite infects and divides within red blood cells. The infected red cell eventually ruptures in a process called egress, releasing a fresh wave of parasites which rapidly invade new red cells. Invasion involves the activity of a complex set of proteins that are released onto the parasite surface to bind to the new red blood cell and penetrate it.
Our work aims to improve our understanding of how these parasite proteins interact with the host red blood cell to enable invasion, and how antibodies can interfere with this process. This will help the development of new drugs and aid vaccine design.
In addition, we are studying a family of parasite-derived enzymes that regulate egress of the parasite from red blood cells, and also modify the parasite surface to prime it for invasion. We are investigating the regulation, structure and function of these enzymes, and searching for inhibitory compounds with potential to be developed as antimalarial drugs.