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Malaria Research Program

The Malaria Research Program is a collaborative group of researchers from several NIAID laboratories whose goal is to bring fresh, innovative, and interdisciplinary approaches to malaria research. The program also provides training opportunities for students and postdoctoral fellows who will be future leaders of malaria programs.

Mission

The mission of the DIR Malaria Research Program (MRP) is to seek fundamental knowledge about the interactions of malaria parasites with the human host and the mosquito vectors that transmit them and to apply this knowledge to prevent disease, enhance health, and improve the quality of life in malaria endemic areas.

Basic Research Goals

  • Explore the acquisition and maintenance of immunity to Plasmodium parasites during natural and experimental malaria infections in humans and experimental models.
  • Understand how Plasmodium parasites cause disease and identify parasite and host factors that determine disease outcome.
  • Investigate the physiology of Plasmodium parasites, including nutrient uptake and erythrocyte invasion, and identify mechanisms of resistance to antimalarial drugs.
  • Understand the interactions between the Plasmodium parasites and mosquito vectors that drive malaria transmission.

Translational Research Goals

This fundamental knowledge would be the basis to develop new malaria control strategies such as the following:

  • Vaccines to prevent the blood stage of the disease and adjunctive therapies for severe disease. While we continue to seek full eradication of malaria, the development of effective blood-stage vaccines and adjunctive therapies for severe disease would save the lives of countless children and pregnant women around the world and thus be a priority for research.
  • A vaccine to interrupt malaria transmission. To block the cycle of malaria transmission, vaccines are needed that prevent liver-stage infections and/or block the ability of the gametocytes to be transmitted or to develop in the mosquito.
  • Measures to reduce the effectiveness of the mosquito vector. Anopheles gambiae and Anopheles funestus complexes, the prevailing mosquitoes in Africa, are “super vectors” for malaria, having a long life span, feeding primarily on humans, and being highly susceptible to infection. To eradicate malaria, methods will need to be developed to modify mosquitoes so that they no longer transmit malaria and to introduce these modified mosquitoes into the field, in Africa and other endemic regions.
  • Effective antimalarial drugs that treat the blood stage of the disease and interrupt transmission. Several such drugs are in various phases of discovery and development, but drug resistance always develops, and new drugs will be needed to control malaria prior to elimination. Drugs are also needed to kill Plasmodium vivax in the liver, preventing relapses. Developing such drugs will likely require understanding the dormant liver phase of the parasite.
  • Rapid diagnostic tests that can quickly detect malaria cases and parasite carriers in human populations. New and improved rapid diagnostic tests will be needed that detect and direct appropriate use of treatments for malaria parasites versus other infectious causes of febrile illness. These tests will be particularly important where malaria control programs reduce the prevalence of infections to low levels prior to eradication.

Organization

MRP Director
Dr. Carolina Barillas-Mury
Chief, Mosquito Immunity and Vector Competence Section, Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research (LMVR)

MRP Executive Committee
Dr. Patrick Duffy
Chief, Laboratory of Malaria Immunology and Vaccinology (LMIV)

Dr. Susan Pierce
Chief, Laboratory of Immunogenetics (LIG)

Dr. Thomas Wellems
Chief, Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research

Areas of Research and Investigators

MRP investigators explore the biology of malaria from the perspective of the human host, the Plasmodium parasite, and the mosquito vector and the interactions among them. 

Plasmodium Biology

Thomas Wellems
Malaria Genetics Section

Sanjay Desai
Apicomplexan Molecular Physiology Section

Louis Miller
Malaria Cell Biology Section

Xinzhuan Su
Malaria Functional Genomics Section

Malaria Immunity and Pathogenesis

Patrick Duffy
Pathogenesis and Immunity Section

Michal Fried
Molecular Pathogenesis and Biomarkers Section

Sue Pierce
Lymphocyte Activation Section

Peter Crompton
Malaria Infection Biology and Immunity Unit

Rick Fairhurst
Malaria Pathogenesis and Human Immunity Unit

Tian Jin
Chemotaxis Signal Section

Eric Long
Molecular and Cellular Immunology Section

Silvia Bolland
Autoimmunity and Functional Genomics Section

Malaria Transmission

Carole Long
Malaria Immunology Section

Carolina Barillas-Mury
Mosquito Immunity and Vector Competence Section

Malaria Research Program Collaborative Research Fellowship

To meet the greatest challenges in malaria research, contemporary studies often rely on collaborative efforts between individual investigators with expertise in different areas. NIAID scientists who study malaria in three separate laboratories have come together to form the Malaria Research Program (MRP) and promote collaborative environments and facilitate next-level breakthroughs in malaria research. The goal of the MRP is to create, strengthen, and sustain interactions within MRP and with other NIH-based investigators who are using diverse yet complementary approaches to tackle the global malaria problem.

The MRP Collaborative Research Fellowship will be awarded annually to a limited number of top applicants who aspire to improve our understanding of the biology, host-pathogen interactions, and transmission of malaria parasites. MRP fellows are expected to play a central role in initiating and maintaining close, balanced, and productive collaborations between two laboratories in the MRP or between the MRP and another NIH-based research program. To help successful applicants gain the knowledge base and skills necessary to launch their own scientific careers, the MRP Collaborative Research Fellowship will provide them the opportunities to do the following:

  • Conduct independent, cutting-edge research at NIH and the NIH Clinical Center in the United States and at NIH-sponsored field sites in several of the world’s malaria-endemic countries
  • Collaborate with other MRP and NIH scientists to make cross-bridging breakthroughs and gain expertise in diverse, complementary areas of science
  • Access the outstanding research experience, resources, and facilities at NIH and at NIAID’s International Centers for Excellence in Research (ICERs) in Mali, Uganda, and India, as well as newly renovated laboratories in Cambodia and Thailand
  • Interact with outstanding MRP and other NIH fellows to form long-lasting personal and scientific relationships
  • Receive mentoring from two or more NIH scientists, including experts in parasite biology and transmission and antimalarial immunity, vaccines, and chemotherapy
  • Attend year-round weekly seminars given by distinguished intramural and extramural investigators from diverse scientific fields
  • Develop public speaking and other communication skills through participation in MRP-wide weekly seminars, journal clubs, and other training activities
  • Develop teaching and mentoring skills through supervision of junior trainees
  • Attend and present research findings at the most relevant, high-quality national and international meetings

NIAID has a decades-long history of making advances in malaria research, including seminal discoveries that significantly improved our understanding of malaria pathogenesis, immunity and vaccinology, human and vector resistance to parasite infection and disease, and parasite resistance to antimalarial drugs.

MRP investigators envision that a more collaborative approach to research will drive the future development of affordable, point-of-care diagnostics for malaria and drug-resistant parasite infections; highly effective drugs that target essential parasite functions and are less vulnerable to acquired drug-resistance mechanisms; vaccines and adjunctive therapies that reduce the morbidity, mortality, and transmission of malaria; and novel strategies that block parasite development in mosquito vectors.

Last Updated August 20, 2015