Combining diverse expertise – Imperial College Network of Excellence in Malaria

By Dr Aubrey Cunnington, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Paediatric Infectious Diseases and Dr Jake BaumReader in Parasite Cell Biology, Faculty of Natural SciencesDepartment of Life Sciences, Imperial College London 

WHO/S. Hollyman

World Malaria Day is a good time to reflect on successes in the fight against malaria and the enormous challenges that still lie ahead. Malaria is a mosquito-transmitted parasitic disease, which causes illness ranging from severe flu-like symptoms to coma and death. Those at greatest risk are small children and pregnant women. It is an ancient enemy of mankind, and has exerted a powerful influence on our evolution. Malaria is a cunning foe, the parasites stay one step ahead of our immune systems allowing repeated infections to occur and they have a great capacity to develop resistance to antimalarial drugs.

Half a million people die from malaria every year, half a million too many, but half a million less than two decades ago. This success has arisen from widespread implementation of effective strategies to prevent, diagnose and treat malaria, supported by considerable political willpower. It is heavily reliant on insecticides (in bed nets and sprays) and potent antimalarials (artemisinin combination therapies). Yet mosquitoes are becoming resistant to all current insecticides, parasites resistant to all current antimalarials, and as transmission of malaria has declined the fragile immunity to its life-threatening complications is diminishing. Losing ground now could be disastrous, sustaining current progress is a challenge, and saving the remaining half a million lives per year will require a huge effort.

The mission of the Imperial College Network of Excellence in Malaria is malaria eradication – wiping malaria off the face of the earth. We believe that bringing together researchers from across our university, each with diverse areas of expertise, catalyses the bold ideas and strategies that are needed. Uniquely, we have membership from every faculty at Imperial College, from Natural, Medical and Engineering sciences through to the Business School. Our research transcends scales – from molecules to populations, and focus – from fundamental biological insights to development of innovative technologies to implementation and assessment of impact. Our research portfolio provides insight into parasite, mosquito and human biology, identifying potential new targets for intervention. This links closely to innovation in biotechnology (such as genetically modified mosquitoes), engineering (new diagnostics) and chemistry (new drug development). But ultimately it is the impact of these strategies on malaria cases and deaths that is most important. By uniting experts in discovery science and technological innovation with experts in clinical trials, modelling, economic and implementation research, our community is constantly striving to place our work in the context of the big picture. The core of our network lies in Imperial College, but our partners and collaborators are in every continent, and our aim is impact is on a Global scale.

Read more about the Imperial College Network of Excellence in Malaria here.

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