Structural and Molecular Mechanisms of Malaria Parasite Invasion

Associate Professor Wai-Hong Tham, Molecular Parasitologist, Laboratory Head, Infection and Immunity Division, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Victoria, Australia

Malaria is one of the deadliest parasitic diseases in the world. Malaria parasites are obligate intracellular parasites exquisitely adapted for invasion and survival within red blood cells. In order to gain entry into red blood cells, the parasite must recognize and bind to these cells and activate a complex series of steps that involve protein-protein interactions between parasite adhesins and red blood cell receptors. 

The Tham laboratory is focused on deciphering new host-pathogen interactions that govern successful malaria infection. They study parasite adhesins that are required for entry into human erythrocytes and parasite surface proteins that bind to human complement proteins for immune evasion. The overarching aim is to rationally design and generate new inhibitors or antibodies that block these interactions and hence, recurrent malaria infection in humans. This seminar will present their findings on a new entry receptor that allows Plasmodium vivax to invade the youngest human red blood cells.

Associate Professor Wai-Hong Tham obtained her PhD from Princeton University in 2001. She was appointed as a laboratory head in the Infection and Immunity division at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in 2013. She is currently a Howard Hughes-Wellcome Trust International Research Scholar. For her contribution to understanding malaria parasite invasion, she was part of a team that was awarded the inaugural Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research in 2011.