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Breakthrough in malaria research looks to body’s immune cells


Dr Michelle Wykes

Dr Michelle Wykes in the laboratory

Groundbreaking research from QIMR is set to pave the way for the development of new malaria drugs and vaccines.

Dr Michelle Wykes and her team have recently published new findings demonstrating how the malaria parasite can survive in a type of white blood cell in the spleen.

Dr Wykes’ research, undertaken over several years, provides a major breakthrough in our understanding of the malaria parasites.

Traditionally, it was believed the parasite’s development in the body was restricted to the liver and red blood cells.

The findings have opened up a whole new approach to developing drugs and vaccines targeting the infection in the spleen.

“Our research has discovered how white blood cells called dendritic cells, malfunction and shield the malaria parasite from the body’s immune attack,” Dr Wykes said.

“Dendritic cells normally function like generals of an army, giving orders to the body’s immune cells to fight infection.

“The system usually works brilliantly. However, the problem with malaria is that the disease has found a way to block dendritic cells from doing their work, meaning that the disease overrides our immune responses. And therefore, people get sick.”

Dr Wykes was awarded a $300,000 Queensland Government Smart State fellowship in 2010 to assist her research.

“The fellowship has enabled me to progress my research and without it I wouldn’t have been able to deliver these new findings which are a major step in fighting the global problem of malaria,” Dr Wykes said.

QIMR is a partner in the Queensland Tropical Health Alliance (QTHA) with James Cook University, the Queensland University of Technology and Griffith University, with the aim of improving the detection, diagnosis and treatment of tropical diseases.

 

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