Understanding Plasmodium falciparum invasion of red blood cells

Understanding Plasmodium falciparum invasion of red blood cells

Project details

Malaria is an infectious disease caused by Plasmodium parasites. Invasion of human red blood cells by the parasite is a complex multistep process that involves interactions of parasite proteins with host receptors that leads to internalization of the parasite. 

We aim to understand the function of these parasite proteins that lead to successful invasion. In particular, we aim to understand the role of the Rh5-CyRPA-Ripr complex (Wong et al, Nature 2019 565 (7737):118) and the AMA1-RON complex in parasite invasion. To aid this, we have developed monoclonal antibodies and nanobodies to essential invasion proteins that will be utilised as critical reagents to dissect function and structure.

Depending on the student’s interests, this project will use a variety of techniques, including molecular biology (i.e. CRISPR), immunology, biochemistry and structural biology. Findings from this project will aid in the design of an efficacious vaccine. 

About our research group

The Cowman lab’s research is aimed at understanding the biology of Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes the most severe form of malaria. In particular, we want to understand how the parasite invades human red blood cells, how the parasite then survives inside red blood cells and how we can leverage this understanding to develop novel antimalarial drugs and vaccines.

As an interdisciplinary team, we combine expertise in cell biology, imaging, biochemistry and structural biology. Accordingly, we aim to exploit our deep understanding of parasite biology as rationale for the design of novel therapeutics. (Volz et al, Cell Host & Microbe 2016 20:60; Healer et al Cell Microbiol 2019 21 e13030).


Email supervisors



Professor Alan Cowman

Alan Cowman standing in a laboratory
Laboratory Head; Deputy Director, Science Strategy
Dr Stephen Scally
Infectious Diseases and Immune Defence

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