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Young Scientists Organize, Attend Malaria Conference at Johns Hopkins

three students at malaria conference.JPG

Most people swat mosquitoes away.

But some researchers get as close as they can to the pesky insects.

Those researchers, of course, have a mission: eradicating malaria as a public health issue throughout the world.

At the end of October, approximately 150 young scientists gathered at the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus for the annual Future of Malaria Research Symposium. The daylong event was an opportunity for young scientists to present their research and to network. Dozens of graduate and post-doc students presented posters at the event, showcasing their research findings. Students and researchers from the University of Maryland, University of Virginia, Harvard University, the National Institutes of Health, Sanaria and other institutions participated.

The conference was organized by the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, which is directed by Bloomberg Distinguished Professor Dr. Peter Agre. Gibbs Nasir, Julia Pringle and Genevieve Tauxe, all of JHU, were the young scientists who chaired the symposium.

Meeting attendees heard keynote addresses from Ellen Yeh of Stanford University and from Kimberly Fornace of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Sessions focused on malaria in the prehistoric Americas and exploring spatial patterns in malaria prevalence across Madagascar, among other topics.

“Attendees learned about some of the most exciting work that’s currently being done in malaria research internationally: the latest in drug development, new genetic tools and changes in mosquito behavior and resistance,” said Nasir, a graduate of the JHU Bloomberg School of Public Health Department of Molecular Microbiology & Immunology. “An important component of the conference is our focus is on featuring young scientists, so there is an energy and a sense of empathetic kinship that is empowering to students as they work toward their research goals.”

Nasir, 28, currently is a research technician and lab manager at the Sinnis Laboratory, which is part of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute. He is studying how molecules and cells that protect humans against microbes interact with the malaria parasite in the skin. The goal is to improve the malaria vaccine.

“Prior to joining the Sinnis research group, I had worked a lot with things you can’t see, like proteins and DNA and RNA, so I was excited to work with things I could observe,” Nasir said.

Pringle, 29, is completing her Ph.D. and master’s of public health from Bloomberg. Her research aims to genetically track malaria parasites to better understand how malaria spreads in regions of Zambia.

“We hope this research will be of use to malaria control programs that are interested in understanding how malaria transmission continues to be sustained in spite of control efforts,” she said.

Malaria is a tropical, mosquito-borne infection that is serious and often fatal. Nearly 1 million people die of malaria every year. Approximately 300 million to 500 million cases of clinical malaria occur annually.

Tauxe, 33, is a post-doctoral fellow in the Malaria Research Institute. She is studying mosquitoes’ sense of smell and how mosquitoes use human odor to find us when they want to take a bite. She wants to understand why mosquitoes prefer to bite some people but not others.

“I became interested in insects after taking a fantastic entomology course in college,” Tauxe said. “I came to study mosquitoes once I realized they are both powerful tools for understanding the mechanisms behind seemingly complex behaviors and that my work could have an impact on public health around the world.”

CATEGORY: Academics, Research