The research group is investigating how parasites such as those that cause human malaria manage to hide from the immune system, spread within the body and emerge to infect others.
Every year up to 500 million people around the world are infected with Plasmodium falciparum – the parasite that causes malaria – and around 1/2 million people will die from the disease.
Infection with another parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, is less dangerous but more widespread, infecting up to a third of the world’s population. The parasite is able to hide from the immune system, lurking in a dormant state for many years. But when the immune system changes – during pregnancy or as AIDS develops, for example – then it can re-emerge and cause serious health problems.
The Cell Biology of Host – Pathogen Interaction Lab wants to find out how these parasites manage to infect human cells, how they evade the immune system, how they move through the body, and how they emerge to infect other people. The group is using a range of lab techniques to identify and study the genes and molecules in parasites and in human cells, so that it can build a detailed picture of how they interact together during infection.
By knowing more about the intricate details of parasite infection, the lab hopes to find new approaches for tackling these devastating and widespread diseases.
Toxoplasma and Plasmodium falciparum are two distantly related eukaryotic, single cell parasites of humans and animals that live and replicate in cells of their eukaryotic host. To prevent clearance by the host immune system, they remodel their host cells by secreting proteins that co-opt, or interfere with host cell functions. The function of the majority of these secreted proteins is not known. In the lab we use a combination of unbiased genetic screens and reverse genetics to uncover the function of the secreted proteins in host-pathogen interaction. We use cell-biological and biochemical approaches to study protein function and aim to put it all into context of the co-evolution of the parasite and the host.
By doing so we hope to learn
i) basic principles of pathogen evolution,
ii) what makes one parasite strain more lethal than another,
iii) how pathogens achieve tolerance in a host which is ultimately required for success,
iv) learn about the immune response and
v) identify therapeutic entry points that may allow development of intervention strategies.