Associate Professor Chris Tonkin

Associate Professor Chris Tonkin

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Associate Professor Chris Tonkin in his office

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Associate Professor
Chris
Tonkin

BSc(Hons) PhD Melbourne 

Laboratory Head

The phylum Apicomplexa is a large group of related parasites that inflict an enormous burden on society. Most notable members include the malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium spp, Cryptosporidium, responsible for severe diarrhoea and Toxoplasma, one of the most common human pathogens and the cause of congenital birth defects, progressive blindness and neurological dysfunction. 

All apicomplexan parasites have a unique lifestyle in which they must replicate within human cells. This requires their ability to ‘invade’ target cells and thwart our body’s defence mechanisms during their growth. 

Our lab aims to understand the molecular processes responsible for parasite invasion and intracellular survival and thus provide novel targets for therapeutic design to treat apicomplexan-caused diseases.

We are also considering contributions of the parasite infections to progressive blindness, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Research interest

Our lab aims to reveal fundamental molecular mechanisms underlying pathogenesis in the Apicomplexa – a collection of notorious human and animal parasites. Apicomplexan parasites are related based on similarities in their infection mechanism and include Plasmodium spp (malaria), Cryptosporidium spp (severe diarrhoea) and Toxoplasma gondii (toxoplasmosis). 

We use a range of molecular and biochemical techniques to unveil essential processes that govern their behaviour and ability to thwart our body’s defences. Our aim is to find chinks in their armour to use for therapeutic advantage. 

The lab has broad interests and currently focusses on the following questions:

  1. How do parasites sense their environment to regulate motility and invasion?
  2. How does latent Toxoplasma persist and cause brain dysfunction?

Further information about these projects

Three researchers with monitor showing parasite

Institute researchers have discovered a way to halt the invasion of the Toxoplasma gondii parasite into cells.

Toxoplasmosis

It’s thought that an infection in humans caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii could cause a change in our behaviour—even a change in our personality that could 'make us' like cats.