Among the disease-causing microbes we study, we are especially focussed on parasitic diseases. A parasite’s life isn’t easy. First, they have to find a suitable person to infect and then find a comfortable place to set up camp inside the body (the blood, guts, or even the brain!). Then to survive parasites have to avoid attacks by the immune system. Finally, when the person they infect aka their ‘host’ becomes too hostile, parasites need to find a new host to infect.
Parasites have evolved complex strategies and weapons to help them survive in their host. These weapons can cause life-threatening symptoms and disease in the host including;
For many parasitic diseases our current medicines are inadequate or are yet to be discovered. Unfortunately, parasites can become resistant to medicines faster than we can discover them. We have the best chance of producing new and powerful medicines if we understand how the disease-giving parasites survive in their human host.
In our labs we use a multidisciplinary approach to understand which genes, molecules, and biological structures are critical to infection and disease. Luckily parasites and their human hosts are vastly different. We can exploit these differences to identify unique elements of the parasite’s attack strategy which we call ‘targets’. These targets are specific to the parasite and can be targeted by medicines to kill the parasite. Some medicines also stop the parasites in their tracks so they can’t be transmitted to the next host.
Parasites are fascinating in that the best targets often give clues into how parasites survive. For examples of how the projects in our biology labs influence drug discovery check out the featured stories below.