Molecular parasitology

Parasitic infections heavily affect global human and animal health. Indeed, half of the world population is at risk of contracting malaria, and one in four people on the planet suffer from soil-borne helminthic infections. Further, a variety of parasites also infect livestock, causing tremendous impact on animal health and significant economic losses.

Parasites can be transmitted by an insect vector, or simply present in water, soil or food, so infection rates can be very high. However, there are very few anti-parasitic vaccines available, and virtually none for human parasitic diseases. Treatment options can be limited and inefficient, and drug resistance is an increasing problem. Therefore, the rise of drug resistance and a plateau in new therapeutic trials, create an urgent demand for new treatment options.

Our laboratory studies Plasmodium falciparum, the most virulent of human malaria parasites. From a fundamental perspective, we aim to understand the biological and genetic mechanisms that allow the parasite to survive inside its human host and cause disease. Ultimately, we use this knowledge to identify new molecules or re-purpose existing compounds used to treat other human diseases, to prevent parasite growth and design novel treatments for malaria.

Our research team also has a keen interest in animal parasites, and in particular in parasites of wildlife. Wild animals are well known to act as reservoir hosts of identified and emerging pathogens that can be transmitted to domestic animals, livestock and humans. We aim to characterise the diversity of parasites that infect Australian wildlife, in particular in hosts such as wild deer and wild dogs. Wild deer and wild dogs have become increasingly prevalent in Australia in recent years and contact with livestock and human populations has increased. We aim to evaluate if these animals constitute a pathogen reservoir populations and pose a risk of pathogen transmission.

Current projects

    Human malaria projects:

  • Host-parasite interactions:
    • Interplay between Plasmodium falciparum and eryptosis of its host red blood cell
    • Drivers of eryptosis of bystander non-infected erythrocytes
    • Interplay between the gut microbiota and cerebral malaria pathology
  • Malaria drug discovery:
    • Anti-parasitic activity of novel 3D-heterospirocycle compounds
    • Repurposing anti-cancer drugs for the treatment of malaria
  • Cell cycle regulation:
    • Defining Plasmodium cyclin-dependent kinase molecular complexes
    • Characterisation of Aurora-related kinases during schizogony
    • The role of centrin proteins in Plasmodium cell division

    Animal parasite projects:

  • The role of wild deer in the transmission of diseases of livestock
  • Identification of intestinal parasites in Australian wild deer
  • Prevalence of Neospora caninum in Australian wild dogs
  • Identification of Cytoisospora and Sarcocystis parasites in Australian wild dogs

Team members

Research leader: Dr Teresa Carvalho

PhD Students: Jose Huaman

Masters Students: Mary Fletcher, Liana Theodoridis

Honours students: