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Breakthrough in malaria research at the University of Bern

Monday 2 December 2019

© Institute of Cell Biology of the University of Bern

An international scientific consortium has for the first time investigated the genome of the malaria parasite Plasmodium throughout its life cycle in a large-scale experiment. Researchers were able to identify hundreds of targets that are urgently needed drug and vaccine development to eradicate the disease.

An international consortium led by Professors Volker Heussler from the Institute of Cell Biology (ICB) at the University of Bern and Oliver Billker from the Umeå University in Sweden (formerly at the Sanger Institute in Great Britain) have carried out a genome-wide gene deletion study on malaria parasites: they specifically removed over 1,300 individual genes, observed the effects during the entire life cycle of the parasite and were thus able to identify many new targets in the pathogen.

According to Volker Heussler, this research could only be carried out thanks to a combination of the enormous sequencing and cloning capacities at the Sanger Institute and the extraordinary infrastructure at the ICB in Bern where the entire life cycle of the malaria parasite is established. The ICB is equipped with an exceptional range of high-performance microscopes, which enable top-level research on the various life cycle stages of the parasite.

Synergies with the Western Switzerland life sciences ecosystem

To systematically analyze the large number of identified metabolic genes, the Bern researchers have joined forces with Professor Vassily Hatzimanikatis of the EPFL in Lausanne and Professor Dominique Soldati-Favre of the University of Geneva to form the "MalarX" consortium, which is financially supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Despite great efforts in medicine and science, more than 400,000 people worldwide are still dying of malaria. The infectious disease is transmitted by the bite of mosquitoes infected with the malaria parasite Plasmodium.

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