Dr. Ian Cheeseman, a staff scientist from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, will receive a 4-year, 1.8 million dollar NIH grant to fund his research on developing and improving a method to sequence the genomes of individual malaria parasites through a new method that was published last June in the journal of Genome Research entitled “Single-cell genomics for dissection of complex malaria infections.”
Malaria is a parasitic disease that remains a devastating global health problem. According to the World Health Organization, there were 627,000 malaria-related deaths in 2012, mainly children younger than five. The majority of malaria infections are complex mixtures of different parasite genotypes, which influences the evolution of parasite virulence, drug resistance, host-parasite interactions and recombination — all of which are not well understood. This funding will enable the researchers to improve the methodology that will permit the characterization of malaria parasites in natural infections that is not currently possible through standard sequencing of infections.
“We think about these infections as containing the sort of diversity you would see in a human village,” said Dr. Cheeseman in the press release. “We could previously only look at the village as a whole, but new technology developed here at Texas Biomed now allows us to identify everyone in the village directly.”
Dr. Cheeseman stated that single cell genomics started in cancer research to understand how tumors evolved through the course of the disease. But the transfer of this methodology into other biological systems has been very difficult.
“One of the major surprises we found when we started looking at individual parasites instead of whole infections was the level of variation in drug resistance genes,” said Shalini Nair, first author of the study published in Genome Research. “The patterns we saw suggested that different parasites within a single malaria infection would react very differently to drug treatment.”
Dr. Cheeseman said that this method enables researchers to observe the parasites in great detail and can develop better drugs and vaccines to fight the deadly parasite.
“To be able to embark on such a well-supported research project so early in my career is a phenomenal boost,” highlighted Dr. Cheeseman. His research has been funded by Texas Biomedical Forum. The future research of Dr. Cheeseman will be funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01AI110941.