Since 2008 NHMRC has spent over $183 million on research into malaria 1
Professor Alan Cowman from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research has spent his career looking to understand how the malaria parasite causes disease in order to find drug targets. In 2013, he was highlighted in NHMRC’s Ten of the Best for his research uncovering protein structures on the surfaces of the parasite.
NHMRC caught up with Professor Cowman to see what has changed in the understanding, treatment and prevention of malaria.
Footage courtesy of Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
‘The malaria parasite is incredibly smart for a single-celled organism. It has the ability to change so the immune response can’t actually see it—it becomes invisible,’ Professor Cowman explained.
Discovering ways of altering the parasite to develop a vaccine, Professor Cowman is working closely with drug companies to test the vaccine. He is also partnering with companies to develop drug targets based on his understanding of how the parasite lives inside the red blood cells.
‘What we have shown is the parasite is able to export other proteins into the red cell that are absolutely essential for it to grow and survive inside that cell,’ he said.
‘In understanding that mechanism it has identified drug targets—drugs that hit that mechanism to stop the parasite from exporting those proteins into the red cell.
‘Malaria is such an important disease globally and trying to develop new treatments is incredibly interesting. In the next 20-30 years it will be possible to eradicate.’
1. Source: National Health and Medical Research Council