By studying the malaria parasite, we hope to identify routes to new drug treatments, for a disease that still kills nearly a million people a year, most of them children. Although effective antimalarial drugs exist, there is a constant risk that parasites will develop resistance, so new therapies are urgently needed.
Our main area of interest lies in parasite transporters – proteins that the parasite uses to move molecules into and out of the cell. We discovered that one of these, known as PfATP6, is a target of the widely used artemisinin class of drugs. We have also shown that a pump used by the parasite to import glucose, an essential source of energy, is an excellent target for drug development.
A major strand of our research focuses on treatment of malaria in the field. With our collaborator Peter Kremsner in Tübingen, Germany, we have strong links with Gabon. We have led or contributed to numerous clinical trials to identify the best approaches to therapy, feeding into practical treatment guidelines for malaria.
We have also studied how parasite infection causes the symptoms of malaria. A better understanding of these mechanisms will help us to manage these symptoms better, alongside treatments that kill the malaria parasite.
We have a long-standing and growing interest in diagnostics. Many infectious diseases are difficult to diagnose from symptoms alone, and accurate diagnostics would help to ensure that patients received the most appropriate drugs.
Diagnostic development is technically challenging, even more so for infectious diseases of the developing world, where diagnostic devices need to be robust, simple to use and affordable as well as accurate.
We are working with a UK biotech company, QuantuMDx, on an exciting project to develop a handheld diagnostic for malaria. Reviewed in the Guardian newspaper as one of the most exciting prospects in malaria control, our ‘point of care’ diagnostic will generate results rapidly, not only identifying the presence of a malaria parasite infection but also its likely responsiveness to drugs. The Nanomal project could have a huge impact on the treatment of patients and more generally on disease control programmes.
Our group brochure [PDF] provides more details about our past research successes in these areas.