Malaria researcher wins top NHMRC fellowship prize
Internationally renowned malaria researcher Professor Alan Cowman was awarded one of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) top honours overnight, receiving the 2011 Research Fellowship Achievement Award.
The award recognises the top ranked researcher in the NHMRC Research Fellowship applications for 2011. Professor Cowman received the award at the NHMRC’s 75th Anniversary Symposium gala dinner held last night in Canberra.
Professor Cowman is head of the institute’s Infection and Immunity division, and a fellow of the NHMRC, Royal Society and the Australian Academy of Science. For more than 30 years he has studied the parasite Plasmodium falciparum, which causes the most deadly form of malaria in humans.
“Malaria presents an enormous health burden but also has a major impact on social and economic development in countries where the disease is endemic,” Professor Cowman said.
The NHMRC Fellowship will support Professor Cowman’s research exploring how the Plasmodium parasite identifies, invades and remodels the host cells in which it lives, scavenging nutrients and hiding from the immune system.
“Our research centres on characterising the proteins involved in these critical events, and how the host responds to infection, as this will help us to identify potential targets for new drugs and vaccine development,” Professor Cowman said.
Malaria is one of the world’s most significant health problems, and approximately half of the world’s population is at risk of infection. Each year almost 250 million people contract malaria, and up to one million people, mostly children, die from the disease.
Professor Cowman has made a wealth of discoveries about the malaria parasite that have had a significant impact on our understanding of how the malaria parasite evades detection by the human immune system and how it becomes resistant to anti-malarial drugs.
“We have made major inroads into understanding the biology of the Plasmodium parasite, which has led to a whole, genetically-attenuated malaria vaccine currently in clinical trials in the US, and another combination, protein-based vaccine that is in development,” Professor Cowman said.
“In 2012, the institute will be establishing an insectary to breed the mosquito species which is the primary transmitter of the two species of Plasmodium that are the biggest threat to human health. This is an important element of our research plan, and will allow us to analyse the behaviour of malaria parasites and parasite proteins in both insect and human host cells,” he said.
Professor Cowman also leads a program that has strong links to Papua New Guinea, and the team is currently involved in a number of clinical and population studies of malaria in the region.
The 2011 Research Fellowship Achievement Award recognises the top ranked Research Fellowship in the NHMRC’s 2011 Research Fellowship funding round. The purpose of the NHMRC Research Fellowships Scheme is to provide support for outstanding health and medical researchers to undertake research that is of major importance in its field and of significant benefit to Australian health and medical research.
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