Dr Diana Hansen

Dr Diana Hansen

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Dr Diana Hansen using a microscope

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Dr
Diana
Hansen

BMedSc (Hons) PhD Buenos Aires

Laboratory Head

Lab focus: mechanisms of pathogenesis and immunity to malaria

Malaria is a major global disease with 214 million cases and an estimated 438,000 deaths in 2015. Most cases of severe malaria are caused by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum. Symptoms include respiratory distress, renal failure and cerebral malaria.

Unlike other infections in which one single encounter with the pathogen is enough to generate long lasting protection, immunity to malaria takes up to 10 years to develop for individuals in endemic areas despite constant exposure to the parasite.

Dr Diana Hansen and her team investigate mechanisms of pathogenesis leading to severe malaria as well as the processes that delay the acquisition of immunity. 

Research interest

After a short period of replication in the liver, Plasmodium parasites invade red blood cells and induce the expression of different proteins on the surface of the infected erythrocyte. This allows them to bind to blood vessel walls and avoid clearance in the spleen.

This process, called sequestration, induces obstructions in the blood flow and it is thought to result in hypoxia and haemorrhages associated with some of the clinical symptoms characteristic of severe syndromes like cerebral malaria.

In addition to parasite sequestration, host immune responses also contribute to the development of organ-specific inflammation responsible for severe disease. Thus immune responses appear to play a dual role in malaria by mediating protection against the parasite and contributing to pathogenesis.

Our team is interested in understanding the cellular and molecular processes that modulate the balance between pathogenic inflammation and protective immunity to malaria.