Malaria researchers receive $2.1 M NIH grant


Malaria is one of the biggest global public health threats and has altered the course of global history. 

A group of USF researchers at USF’s Center for Drug Development and Innovation (CDDI) and the College of Public Health’s Department of Global Health who plan to treat, and ultimately eradicate the disease, earned a $2.1 million grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH). 

Malaria, caused by a parasite carried by mosquitos,could be fatal if untreated. 

While there are drugs that exist to treat the disease, a group comprised of USF researchers and professors have gained a better understanding of the disease’s structure and believe they can create a more effective drug to stop the disease from spreading. 

Developing the right drug consists of using different combinations of molecules that will be able to stop the disease’s ability to spread, which will prevent the its ability to function in its host.

“The focus of the research is to see how those parasites (like malaria) are able to grow,” Michael White, the deputy director of the CDDI and USF professor of molecular medicine, said. “They have a very complicated way that they do cell division and we’ve found an unusual feature of that process.” 

This unusual feature was initially discovered by Elena Suvorova, an assistant professor and researcher at USF’s CDDI, White said. 

“How I started – I think I had a bigger question in my mind,” Suvorova said. “When I look at the parasites I look at them as an organism and I want to know what happens inside of them.”

After a long time staring at slides under a microscope and observing the disease’s cell division, she found a difference between its structure and other similar eukaryotic (animal) cells. 

She noticed malaria’s centrosome – a component of a cell that controls cell division -divided at a rate quicker than normal, which made had begin to wonder “How?” and “Why?” 

As she learned more about the parasitic structure, the question became “how do we stop parasites from spreading?” she said.  

Before the question could be answered the group needed to obtain more funding to continue with the research. Their solution came from the NIH. 

The team hopes the additional research will allow them to better understand the disease and ultimately stop it. 

The more you know about the disease, Suvorova said, the better you can target its weakest link. 

“It’s like working on a car engine,” Suvorova said. “If you know how the engine works, you know which buttons to push – in this case the more you know how these cells work, you know which one will be the weak link to target and stop it.”