Our understanding of the workings of the immune system at both the cellular and molecular levels has advanced significantly over the last decade, as has a similar understanding of the pathogens that the immune system confronts. It is becoming increasingly clear that pathogens, such as the parasite that causes malaria, are able to both evade and disable the immune response by several different mechanisms and that the immune system is able to counter in turn with an equally complex array of anti-pathogen strategies. Understanding this complex set of feedback loops between the immune system and pathogens is the goal of an emerging new field, termed infection biology, that brings immunologists and microbiologists together to explore the interface of pathogens and the immune response (Nature May 18, 2006, vol. 441).
NIAID researchers have initiated a research and training program in malaria infection biology (MIB) to both create and strengthen ties among research programs on the NIAID Twinbrook campus in immunology, malaria and vector biology and vaccinology. Research in the MIB Research and Training Program focuses on understanding the interactions at the interface between the human host’s adaptive and innate immune systems, the mosquito host’s innate immune system, and the most deadly parasite that causes malaria, Plasmodium falciparum. The mission of the MIB Program is to both carry out cutting-edge research that will provide critical new knowledge about the cellular and molecular interactions of the immune system and the parasite and train the next generation of research scientists in MIB.
How to Apply
Relative to the burden of malaria, which takes the lives of nearly one million people each year, there are only a small number of scientists with training and expertise in both immunology and the biology of the malaria parasite and who study the interactions between the two.
The efforts of infection biologists promise to benefit researchers working to develop malaria vaccines. Results from basic science studies have increasingly shown that pathogens for which we do not yet have vaccines are able to both escape and thwart immune responses by a variety of mechanisms. Therefore, the development of vaccines to such pathogens is unlikely to be straightforward and will require a better understanding of the biology of the parasite, as well as a sophisticated knowledge of the immune response to P. falciparum at both the cellular and molecular levels.
A second important area of research that may also benefit from the work of the MIB Program is the development of new antimalarials. Promising new antimicrobial strategies are aimed not at killing microbes, but rather at taking advantage of the behavior of microbes in their host, to disable them to the point where the host’s immune system is able to control the infection.
Malaria is a disease that takes the lives of children and pregnant women in malaria-endemic regions of the world. To facilitate research into malaria human immunology, parasite biology, and pathogenesis, NIAID has established International Centers for Excellence in Research in Mali, Uganda, and India, as well as newly renovated laboratories in Cambodia and Thailand. In collaboration with research scientists in these countries, NIH investigators, fellows, and students routinely travel to these sites to carry out studies in malaria-endemic areas.
The atmosphere within NIAID is one of collegiality, open exchange of ideas, and productive collaboration. In the MIB Program, fellows and students attend weekly seminars given by distinguished immunologists, malaria and vector biologists, and vaccinologists. They also participate in the weekly section meetings of their mentor(s) and have the opportunity to travel to at least one scientific meeting a year to present their findings, meet with fellow researchers, and share research interests.
Fellows and students present their research results in a formal setting once each year in the Malaria and Vector Biology Interest Group Seminar Series. Experts in research areas particularly relevant to MIB are invited to give basic lectures, followed by presentations and discussions of key papers by students and fellows. Together, these activities provide invaluable opportunities for program participants to develop their public-speaking skills and to receive critical feedback on their work.
The MIB Program aims to attract the best young scientists finishing their Ph.D.s in immunology, parasitology, or closely related fields. We are looking for highly motivated fellows who will take advantage of the independence provided to explore significant problems at the interface of the immune response and malaria.
Similarly, graduate students are encouraged to consider the MIB Program for their thesis work through either NIH-affiliated graduate programs or individual graduate partnerships administered by the NIH Graduate Partnership Program.
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Last Updated January 28, 2011