In 2020 Dr. Roland Cooper, professor of Biology in the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, presented his research focused on mechanisms of action and resistance of new antimalarial compounds at the Molecular Approaches to Malaria meeting in Lorne, Australia.
“Mechanisms of varied susceptibility of Ugandan Plasmodium falciparum isolates to lead antimalarials” was authored by Cooper and collaborators from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), as well as Stephanie Rasmussen ’15 BS, ’17 MS, and Sevil Chelebieva ’20.
Sevil (pictured above with colleague Martin Okitwia at UCSF Malaria Research lab) spent the summer of 2019 at Tororo District Hospital in Uganda, working alongside Cooper on a study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to examine the impact of anti-malarial drugs on Plasmodium falciparum parasites. Sevil was awarded a Minority Health International Research Training Fellowship (MHIRT), funded by the NIH through the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Emerging and Neglected Diseases. Stephanie spent three summers working in Uganda (2015-17) and was the lead author on a paper describing her work, published in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.
Dr. Cooper, an expert in malaria research and currently on sabbatical, has established a long relationship with the MHIRT fellowship program, and has mentored many students at his malaria study site in Uganda and a partner site in Blantyre, Malawi.
Like all science majors at Dominican in the School of Health and Natural Sciences, Sevil and Stephanie began working in the lab during their freshman year as part of the University’s unique Research Methodology program, now in its 15th year. This laboratory experience gives students the advantage of knowing how to structure an experiment, use laboratory equipment, record results, analyze data, and present their findings for peer review.
Together with colleagues from UCSF, Medicines for Malaria Venture (Geneva), Brown University and the Infectious Disease Research Collaboration in Uganda, Cooper is studying resistance to the current arsenal of antimalarial drugs, and how that impacts lead antimalarial compounds in development, in two sites in Africa: Uganda and Burkina Faso. The team is interested in mechanistic and genomic aspects of antimalarial compounds in the pre-clinical and clinical pipeline. Dominican students participate in this malaria research, both in the laboratory and field studies in Africa.
Malaria claims nearly half a million lives and results in hundreds of millions of clinical cases annually, primarily due to the lack of safe, affordable and efficacious drugs available for impoverished populations. Compounding the severity of the problem is the lack of an effective malaria vaccine for the foreseeable future. Antimalarial drugs still offer the best hope for the reduction of morbidity and mortality associated with this disease.