The Malaria Research Program (MRP) at the CVD is an interdisciplinary hub for malaria research. The MRP aims to develop and apply innovative scientific tools to fight global infectious diseases, eliminate malaria and train the next generation of scientists. Students have the opportunity to contribute to a large portfolio of research studies, led by a group of 11 faculty members, in collaboration with other trainees, staff, affiliate faculty, and international partners. MRP areas of expertise include antimalarial drug resistance; malaria vaccine development and evaluation; pathogenesis of severe malaria; immune responses to vaccine and natural infection; malaria transmission and surveillance in endemic countries; malaria in pregnancy; and interactions between malaria and co-infections including HIV. Students working with the MRP have access to samples collected from large vaccine and clinical trials at international field sites and vaccine clinical trials and controlled human malaria infection studies in Baltimore. They utilize molecular techniques to understand the reservoirs of malaria transmission; molecular epidemiology and population genomics to understand the evolution of the malaria parasite; population genomics approaches for genomic surveillance; machine learning in reverse vaccinology to identify new antigen candidates for vaccine development; and high throughput array platforms to measure serological responses to malaria and immunopathogenesis of severe disease. MRP trainees participate in a wide range of events including a weekly lab meeting where faculty, students and visitors present their work; a weekly malaria graduate student forum; invited lectures at the CVD with opportunities to meet with speakers; and the annual CVD Frontiers in Vaccinology. Trainees have the opportunity to submit abstracts and present in scientific conferences, including the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Genomic Epidemiology of Malaria, and many more.
Arthropod-Microbe Interactions. The MMI program has a long-standing record related to arthropod-microbe interactions. From the early days of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, which was heavily focused on rickettsial diseases, to the more recent research programs focused on tick- and flea-borne diseases. Current faculty integrate the disciplines of entomology, microbiology and immunology to understand arthropod-borne diseases. They use modern tools available in chemistry and biochemistry, genetics, molecular and structural biology to comprehend fundamental interactions between the arthropod vector, the pathogen and the mammalian host. They also emphasize the complexity of arthropod-borne diseases by performing systems biology analysis of bacterial transmission and acquisition during arthropod blood feeding. Research areas cover interaction of arthropods and skin immune cells, peripheral sensory neurons called nociceptors, arthropod immunity, rickettsial pathogenesis, comparative genomics and symbiosis.
Parasitology at the Institute for Genome Sciences. Parasitology research at the IGS offers trainees the opportunity to apply cutting-edge, high-throughput bulk and single cell genomics and transcriptomics approaches to the study of parasite biology, parasite demography associated with disease epidemiology, host-parasite interactions, and the discovery of novel targets for anti-parasitic drugs and vaccines. The parasite taxa investigated are varied, ranging from the single-celled parasites that cause human malaria, cryptosporidiosis or trichomoniasis, to multi-cellular parasites responsible for river blindness and lymphatic filariasis. Ongoing research also covers parasites with significant, if indirect, impact on human populations, such as those that annually kill hundreds of thousands of livestock in Africa or parasites that infect equids in the US, with an impact on the horse breeding and racing industries. Trainees involved in parasite research have the opportunity enroll in advanced genomics and bioinformatics courses led by IGS faculty, through which they acquire working knowledge of bioinformatics tools and computational analyses (GPLS 716), learn and hone programming skills in Python and R (GPLS 718), and acquire in-depth knowledge in population genetics and genetic epidemiology (PREV 711). They can also enroll in specialized workshops, consisting of lectures and hands-on exercises, that allow trainees to further develop critical -omics skills. Of relevance are workshops on (1) RNA and transcriptomics (2) microbiome analysis and (3) programming skills. Several cross-training opportunities in immunology, vaccinology and epidemiology are available through formal course work and/or co-mentorship by faculty from the Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health. Through their mentors’ established collaborations, parasitology trainees also benefit from networking opportunities with investigators at the National Institutes of Health, as well as those in large international consortia such as the iPfSPZ Consortium, an international consortium of hundreds of investigators conducing vaccinology research in malaria.
Among a vibrant community of close to two dozen predoctoral trainees based at IGS, there are seven working on parasitic diseases, including 5 PhD and 2 MD-PhD students. These students work on diverse topics, including (1) investigation into hard-to-study life cycle stages of Plasmodium parasites using single cell transcriptomics in non-human primate models, (2) human immunological responses to parasitic co-infections, in a malaria-schistosomiasis study model, using a combination of single cell transcriptomics together with B and T cell receptor sequencing and cell subpopulation characterization based on cell surface markers, and (3) the impact of host gender on the development and reproduction of parasites that cause lymphatic filariasis, using a rodent model system and a combination of genomics, transcriptomics and hybrid selection approaches.