Understanding how malaria parasites sabotage acquisition of immunity

Understanding how malaria parasites sabotage acquisition of immunity

Details of project

Malaria is one the most serious infectious diseases with 250 million clinical cases annually. This infection is transmitted to humans by Anopheles mosquitos that are infected with Plasmodium parasites. Unlike other infections like smallpox, which induce life-long protection following a single infection, it is only after years of repeated exposure to the parasite that individuals living in endemic areas develop antibody-mediated immunity to malaria. 

Despite the key role that antibodies play in protection against malaria, the cellular processes underlying the slow and imperfect acquisition of immunity remain unknown. Our group investigates development and maintenance of B cell responses to malaria in humans and infection models. We also aim to identify specific antigenic targets of immunity to malaria to inform in the design of anti-malaria vaccines. 

About our research group

The Hansen lab is one of the six groups within the Infection and Immunity division. Our team focuses on cellular processes leading to the development of immunity to malaria as well as the mechanisms by which the Plasmodium parasites cause severe disease syndromes. 

We have ample experience in in vivo models of infection and we utilise a wide range of techniques for assessment of immunological and pathological endpoints. 

Our group has strong links with scientist in malaria-endemic areas, where we conduct field studies to investigate immune responses to P. falciparum and P. vivax. Our main collaborator is the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology in Jakarta, Indonesia.


Schematic showing immune cell development
Normal processes that lead to long-term immunity (top panel) are disrupted by the malaria parasite (centre panel). We have identified the mechanism by which malaria infection impairs follicular helper T cells (Tfh cells), preventing the formation of germinal centres that are required for antibody production.



Dr Diana Hansen

Dr Diana Hansen using a microscope
Laboratory Head

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