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Rick M. Fairhurst, M.D., Ph.D.​

Photo of Rick M. Fairhurst, M.D., Ph.D. 

Chief, Malaria Pathogenesis and Human Immunity​ Unit

Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research

Major Areas of Research

  • Mechanisms of malaria protection conferred by red blood cell polymorphisms and naturally acquired immune responses
  • Mechanisms of malaria pathogenesis associated with the sequestration of parasitized red blood cells in microvessels
  • Mechanisms of malaria parasite resistance to artemisinins and other antimalarial drugs
 

Program Description

Research in the Malaria Pathogenesis and Human Immunity Unit focuses on three goals:

  1. To improve our understanding of the pathogenesis of malaria
  2. To improve our understanding of innate and acquired resistance to malaria
  3. To develop therapeutics and vaccines that reduce the morbidity and mortality of malaria

In each of the major areas of research, we seek discoveries that improve knowledge of malaria pathogenesis and protection and thereby support searches for new antimalarial therapeutics and vaccines. Research activities in our unit are integrated with field studies in malaria-endemic areas of Mali and Cambodia, where red blood cell polymorphisms are highly prevalent. Working in Cambodia enables us to study Plasmodium vivax malaria and artemisinin-resistant Plasmodium falciparum malaria, which are not present in Mali.

To learn more about Dr. Fairhurst’s international work, read Fighting Drug-Resistant Malaria: Rick Fairhurst and Others at NIAID Go Global.

Inquiries about pre- and post-doctoral fellowships, as well as Ph.D. studentships in the NIH Graduate Partnership Program, are welcome.

Biography

Dr. Fairhurst received his M.D. and Ph.D. (molecular biology) degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Following an internal medicine residency and an infectious diseases fellowship at UCLA Medical Center, he joined the Division of Intramural Research in 2001. As a clinical tenure-track investigator, Dr. Fairhurst focuses his laboratory’s work on elucidating the mechanisms of malaria pathogenesis, human genetic resistance to malaria, acquired immunity to malaria, and parasite resistance to the artemisinin class of antimalarial drugs. He travels frequently to malaria-endemic areas of Mali and Cambodia, where his trainees and colleagues enroll patients into clinical research protocols and use bio-specimens in laboratory investigations. Dr. Fairhurst is past president of the American Committee on Molecular, Cellular, and Immunoparasitology, a subcommittee of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), current appointed councilor of ASTMH, and director of the National Institutes of Health M.D.-Ph.D. Partnership Training Program. He has received the NIAID Outstanding Mentor of the Year Award (2011) and the ASTMH Bailey K. Ashford Medal for distinguished work in tropical medicine (2013).

 

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Selected Publications

Amaratunga C, Lim P, Suon S, Sreng S, Mao S, Sopha C, Sam B, Dek D, Try V, Amato R, Blessborn D, Song L, Tullo GS, Fay MP, Anderson JM, Tarning J, Fairhurst RM. Dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine resistance in Plasmodium falciparum malaria in Cambodia: a multisite prospective cohort study. Lancet Infect Dis. 7 Jan 2016. Epub ahead of print.

St Laurent B, Miller B, Burton TA, Amaratunga C, Men S, Sovannaroth S, Fay MP, Miotto O, Gwadz RW, Anderson JM, Fairhurst RM. Artemisinin-resistant Plasmodium falciparum clinical isolates can infect diverse mosquito vectors of Southeast Asia and Africa. Nat Commun. 2015 Oct 20;6:8614.

Lopera-Mesa TM, Doumbia S, Konate D, Anderson JM, Doumbouya M, Keita AS, Diakite SAS, Traore K, Krause MA, Diouf A, Moretz SE, Tullo G, Miura K, Gu W, Fay MP, Taylor SM, Long CA, Diakite M, Fairhurst RM. Impact of red blood cell variants on childhood malaria in Mali: a prospective cohort study. Lancet Haematol. 2015 Mar 24. Epub ahead of print.

Miotto O, Amato R, Ashley EA, MacInnis B, Almagro‐Garcia J, Amaratunga C, Lim P, Mead D, Oyola S, Dhorda M, Imwong M, Woodrow C, Manske M, Stalker J, Drury E, Campino S, Amenga‐Etego L, Thanh TNN, Tran HT, Ringwald P, Bethell D, Nosten F, Phyo AP, Pukrittayakamee S, Chotivanich K, Chuor CM, Nguon C, Suon S, Sreng S, Newton PN, Mayxay M, Khanthavong M, Hongvanthong B, Htut Y, Han KT, Kyaw MP, Faiz A, Fanello CI, Mokuolu OA, Jacob CG, Takala-Harrison S, Plowe CV, Day NP, Dondorp AM, Spencer CCA, McVean G, Fairhurst RM, White NJ, Kwiatkowski DP. Genetic architecture of artemisinin-resistant Plasmodium falciparum. Nat Genet. 2015 Mar;47(3):226-34.

Straimer J, NF Gnädig, B Witkowski, C Amaratunga, V Duru, AP Ramadani, M Dacheux, N Khim, L Zhang, S Lam, PD Gregory, FD Urnov, O Mercereau-Puijalon, F Benoit-Vical, RM Fairhurst, D Ménard, DA Fidock. Drug resistance. K13-propeller mutations confer artemisinin resistance in Plasmodium falciparum clinical isolates. Science. 2015 Jan;347(6220):428-31.

Ashley EA, M Dhorda, RM Fairhurst, C Amaratunga, P Lim, S Suon, S Sreng, JM Anderson, S Mao, B Sam, C Sopha, MC Chuor, C Nguon, S Sovannaroth, S Pukrittayakamee, P Jittamala, K Chotivanich, K Chutasmit, C Suchatsoonthorn, R Runcharoen, TT Hien, NT Thuy-Nhien, VT Ngo, HP Nguyen, Y Htut, KT Han, KH Aye, OA Mokuolu, RR Olaosebikan, OO Folaranmi, M Mayxay, M Khanthavong, B Hongvanthong, PN Newton, MA Onyamboko, CI Fanello, AK Tshefu, N Mishra, N Valecha, AP Phyo, F Nosten, P Yi, R Tripura, S Borrmann, M Bashraheil, J Peshu, A Faiz, A Ghose, A Hossain, R Samad, R Rahman, M Hasan, A Islam, O Miotto, R Amato, B MacInnis, J Stalker, DP Kwiatkowski, Z Bozdech, A Jeeyapant, PY Cheah, T Sakulthaew, J Chalk, B Intharabut, K Silamut, SJ Lee, B Vihokhern, C Kunasol, M Imwong, J Tarning, WJ Taylor, S Yeung, C Woodrow, J Flegg, D Das, J Smith, M Venkatesan, CV Plowe, K Stepniewska, PJ Guerin, AM Dondorp, NP Day, NJ White. Spread of artemisinin resistance in Plasmodium falciparum malaria. N Engl J Med. 2014 Jul;371(5):411-23.

Visit PubMed for a complete publication listing.

Field Studies

In Mali, we just completed a 4-year longitudinal cohort study in which we diagnosed and treated 4,200 cases of P. falciparum malaria in 1,500 children. In this study, we aim to improve our understanding of how hemoglobin C, hemoglobin S, alpha-thalassemia, G6PD deficiency and blood group O antigen protect against malaria. We are also working to identify novel host immune and genetic factors that control the progression from uncomplicated to severe malaria. Presently, we are also working to identify host immune factors that influence parasite clearance rates in response to artemisinins.

Malian children participating in our 4-year study of malaria incidence
Malian children participating in our 4-year study of malaria incidence
Malian children being enrolled into our study under the shade of a mango tree
Malian children being enrolled into our study under the shade of a mango tree
Enrollment of 1,500 children in Kenieroba, Mali (May 2008).
Credit: NIAID
 

In Cambodia, we recently completed longitudinal cohort and case-control studies in which we diagnosed and treated 2,000 cases of P. falciparum and P. vivax malaria. In these studies, we aim to improve our understanding of how hemoglobin E, alpha-thalassemia, G6PD deficiency, and blood group O antigen protect against severe P. falciparum malaria. We are also working to identify virulence determinants of P. vivax and host immune and genetic factors that control the progression from asymptomatic P. vivax parasitemia to symptomatic disease. More recently, we have studied parasite clearance rates in response to artemisinin in 500 patients from western, northern, and eastern Cambodia. Using data from all three sites, we aim to identify the P. falciparum genetic determinants of slow parasite clearance rates ("artemisinin resistance") in vivo.

Thmar Da, a commune on the Cambodia-Thailand border where we work
Thmar Da, a commune on the Cambodia-Thailand border where we work
A Cambodian child being enrolled into a 3-year cohort study of malaria incidence
A Cambodian child being enrolled into a 3-year cohort study of malaria incidence
Enrollment of 1,100 individuals in Thmar Da, Cambodia (April 2008).
Credit: NIAID
 
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Last Updated January 08, 2016