A New Take on Tackling Malaria

According to the World Health Organization, one child dies from malaria every minute. New methods to combat malaria parasites are particularly important as these parasites continue to develop resistance to front-line drugs.

Mosquito

April 25 is World Malaria Day, and the Canadian Light Source is celebrating the work of young researcher Dr. Michelle (Tonkin) Parker. As a graduate student in Prof. Martin Boulanger’s research group at the University of Victoria, she’s published more than 10 papers related to the basis of malaria infection mechanisms.

“Michelle’s graduate work has provided the basis from which to explore novel strategies to fight malaria infections,” says Boulanger. Through collaborations with groups working on malaria drug and vaccine initiatives, Parker’s results are already helping researchers develop novel malaria drug strategies.

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Dr. Michelle (Tonkin) Parker in the lab. Image courtesy University of Victoria. Miura K, Boulanger MJ, Long CA, Narum DL, Miller LH. 2014. Immunization with a functional protein complex required for erythrocyte invasion protects against lethal malaria. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. Jul 15 111(28): 10311-6.

New methods to combat malaria parasites are particularly important as these parasites continue to develop resistance to front-line drugs. Parker’s work points to a different strategy for stopping malaria infections by targeting a potential “Achilles’s heel” of malaria infection: the unique strategy it uses to enter a human red blood cell.

Her work has contributed to a high resolution model of how malaria invades red blood cells with what looks at first glance like a magic trick. Akin to a magician pushing a pin into a balloon without popping it, the malaria parasite stealthily slips itself into human cells. Understanding this mechanism opens up a new way to stop malaria in its tracks.

1. Tonkin ML, Roques M, Lamarque MH, Pugniere M, Douguet D, Crawford J, Lebrun M, Boulanger MJ. 2011. Host cell invasion by Apicomplexan parasites: insights from the co-structure of AMA1 with a RON2 peptide. Science 333: 463-7.
2. Vulliez-Le Normand B, Tonkin ML, Lamarque MH, Langer S, Hoos S, Roques M, Saul FA, Faber BW, Bentley GA, Boulanger MJ, Lebrun M. 2012. Structural and functional insights into the malaria parasite moving junction complex. PLoS Pathog. Jun;8(6):e1002755.
3. Srinivasan P, Ekanem E, Diouf A, Tonkin ML

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