Center for Infectious Disease Research launches $11.5M project to combat ‘devastating’ drug-resistant malaria

CIDR researcher Ashley Vaughan will lead the new project. (CIDR Photo)

Seattle’s Center for Infectious Disease Research (CIDR) announced Wednesday that it will lead a new $11.5 million research project to combat drug-resistant malaria, a serious public health problem in Southeast Asia that could have devastating effects if it spreads to other regions.

The project’s principal scientist is CIDR researcher Ashley Vaughan, who will work alongside CIDR Researcher and Professor Stefan Kappe, University of Notre Dame Researcher Michael Ferdig and researchers at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute.

The scientists will work across specialties to breed drug-resistant parasites with those that react to drugs, then examine the genetics of their offspring. Their goal is to isolate the genes related to drug resistance and use that information to combat it more effectively.

Researcher and professor Stefan Kappe leads a malaria research lab at CIDR and will take part in the project. (CIDR Photo)

In the 1950s, a drug-resistant malaria parasite swept across the world, rendering the malaria treatments of the time largely useless. With the emergence of a new drug-resistant malaria strain in Southeast Asia, there is the possibility the same could happen again in the coming decades, a crisis the project is hoping to prevent or combat.

The project is funded by the National Institutes of Health and will take advantage of a new technique pioneered by Vaughan and Kappe that grows largely human livers in mice so malaria parasites can be quickly grown and studied on a large scale. The parasites need a host to survive, something that makes malaria research particularly difficult.

“Our innovative research with human liver-chimeric mice has enabled us to perform genetic crosses with the malaria parasite,” Vaughan said in a press release. “This breakthrough will allow us, for the first time, to use systems genetics to gain an understanding of the evolution of drug resistance in this deadly parasite. This will help us combat and control drug resistance.”