Top prize for malaria researcher

Top prize for malaria researcher

30 Aug 2010

La Trobe University biochemist Professor Leann Tilley has won the Bancroft-Mackerras Medal for her work in the global fight against malaria – a disease that kills more than one million people every year, most of them children.

Leann TilleyThis highly prestigious and irregular prize awarded by the Australian Society for Parasitology for outstanding contributions to the science of parasitology is based on five years sustained work.

At the award ceremony, Professor Tilley gave a special Parasitology Society lecture on new techniques for imaging the deadly Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasite.

This work, with colleague and physicist Associate Professor Andrew Peele, recently also received $275,000 research support from the Federal Government under its four-year Super Science Fellowship scheme.

Professor Tilley says these new approaches use ‘extreme’ imaging techniques to better define the structure of the parasite and its behaviour in the human body. They include super-resolution optical microscopy, and X-ray and electron tomography.

‘These techniques have the potential to produce significant advances in the fight against malaria over the next four years,’ she says.

Existing light microscopy, Professor Tilley explains, is limited to seeing things about the size of 250 nanometres because of problems caused by diffraction of light.

‘With one of these new methods we can get around this barrier. We can see features inside the cell down to about 100 nanometres – more than double the resolution of conventional microscopes.’

So in their quest to find new ways to fight malaria, the researchers can now observe the first stages of the digestion of haemoglobin by the malaria parasite.

‘This is an important step to help us understand how the parasite copes with life inside a red blood cell, and how we can best design anti-malarial drugs that interfere with its digestion processes.’

The work is part of a series of programs supported by the Federal Government's ARC Centre of Excellence for Coherent X-ray Science of which La Trobe is a member.


Professor Tilley

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Issued by: Ernest Raetz

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