I am a Senior Staff Scientist at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. The institute is part of the Genome Campus, located in Hinxton, South Cambridgeshire.
My latest work:
My main work centres around malaria. I am mostly interested in the interaction between malaria parasites and their mammalian hosts and because the infectious cycle of the parasite in the blood is the stage most associated with clinical disease, this is the part of the life cycle I study.
In this age of genetics, we have access to great data about the parasites, but assessing the host is a bit more difficult. This is because the malaria parasites invade red blood cells and as these do not have a nucleus, we don’t have the ‘genetic handle’ to understand and manipulate them. So, my solution is to use stem cells. The way this works is that we either reprogramme induced plutipotent stem cells or IPS from patients or we use some of the already established lines. As these cells have the potential to become almost any cell type, we developed a protocol to turn them into red blood cells, which we then expose to the parasite to see if they can infect.
This allows us to modify some of the proteins normally present in the red blood cell and see whether the parasite still infects them. In this way, we found one of the major receptors for the rodent malaria parasite Plasmodium berghei… yes, mice as well as many other animals suffer from malaria too.
We have also identified some of the major components of human red blood cells that are necessary for the parasite to infect people.