Malaria investigation takes leader to new territory

1 Aug 12

A leading molecular biologist from the University of Melbourne has been awarded the Dorothea Sandars Churchill Fellowship for his work on parasitic diseases.

Stuart Ralph

Dr Stuart Ralph, a senior lecturer and laboratory leader in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Bio21 Institute, received his award from the Governor of Victoria, Mr Alex Chernov.  

Dr Ralph has a particular interest in the cause of severe malaria, Plasmodium falciparum and therapies for combating this disease. Researchers are constantly looking for new ways to conquer malaria and to increase our understanding of the action of parasites and resistance to existing drugs. 

“The burden of disease-causing parasites is particularly high in developing countries, and not enough funding is put into developing much needed treatments,” Dr Ralph said.  

“Complete genome sequences are available for many of the parasites, so a wealth of data is available to enable us to search for potential targets for chemotherapeutic treatments. My interests lie in identifying and characterising promising drug targets from Plasmodium falciparum and other parasites, as well as understanding how parasites become resistant to current treatments.”

As part of his Fellowship Dr Ralph will travel to India, visiting Delhi, Lucknow and Pune to meet parasite biologists, medicinal chemists and computational scientists. Together they will use Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) a data and ideas sharing platform.

“More and more, bioinformatic methods are used to screen for promising drug targets and to identify chemicals that might inhibit those targets,” he said. 

“Identifying those inhibitors and synthesis and the testing of specific compounds will often be better performed by a motivated student or researcher in a laboratory half way around the world who is connected to the relevant information and expertise. We want to open drug research up to all who are enthusiastic to be involved, rather than operating a closed shop,” 

The Churchill Trust was established in 1965 to honour the memory of Sir Winston Churchill by awarding overseas research Fellowships known as 'Churchill Fellowships'.

 

Helen Varnavas, 02 Aug 2012