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Alyssa Barry, Burnet Institute, has recently been awarded funding from the Wellcome Trust (UK) to study two of the six known human malaria parasites.

October 2010

The Burnet Institute's Dr Alyssa Barry was recently awarded funding from the Wellcome Trust (UK) to study two newly described human malaria parasites in collaboration with researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (UK), Mahidol University (Thailand) and University of Bamako (Mali). Until recently, Plasmodium ovale was considered to be a single species but is now known to be two different species that co-circulate throughout Africa and Asia (P. ovale curtisi and P. ovale wallikeri). The project will investigate the prevalence of each species in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and develop new molecular tools to study the population genetics of the two parasites worldwide. The information gained from the study is expected to provide insight into the scale of the disease caused by each species both within PNG and globally and important knowledge for elimination programs. The PNG Institute of Medical Research (PNGIMR), one of Burnets key collaborators in the Asia-Pacific, will be integral to the success of the project through access to field sites and samples while the project will provide the opportunity for training opportunities for PNGIMR students thus strengthening existing links between the two institutes and building further research capacity in PNG.

Alyssa Barry is a Burnet Institute Senior Research Fellow, a Monash University Adjunct Senior Lecturer and VESKI Innovation Fellow and she co-heads the Molecular Genomic Epidemiology laboratory in the Centre for Population Health, Burnet Institute together with Professor John Reeder. Their research aims to understand the epidemiology, population biology and evolution of malaria parasites using genomic, bioinformatic and population genetic tools. Relatively limited population genetic data for malaria is available from the Asia Pacific region. Most recently, a major goal of the lab has been to map the diversity of P. falciparum populations in Papua New Guinea with a particular focus on candidate vaccine antigens, a project funded by the NHMRC. The information gained will provide a basis upon which to plan and monitor malaria interventions and eventually elimination campaigns. Alyssa is committed to building research capacity in the Asia-Pacific by providing opportunities for students of malaria-endemic countries to participate in the research and through training workshops. Alyssa and Dr. Anna Hearps (a Burnet colleague) recently conducted a one-week "Techniques in Molecular Biology" workshop at the PNGIMR, Goroka, the first of its kind at the Institute.