How malaria parasites evade immunity by changing their appearance to the immune system through antigenic variation. (malaria, transcription, gene expression, epigenetics, antigenic variation)
Dr Michael Duffy did his PhD in Mycoplasma pneumoniae at the School of Veterinary Science at the University of Melbourne. This basic research identified a species-specific, immunodominant surface antigen that he developed into a serodiagnostic for atypical pneumonia currently produced under licence by a commercial company. He then undertook post-doctoral research into the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum for the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, but based at the Eijkman Institute in Jakarta Indonesia. He returned to University of Melbourne where his research continued into the highly variable P. falciparum proteins expressed on the infected red blood cell surface in malaria. This work contributed to the identification and characterisation of a parasite protein responsible for malaria during pregnancy. Currently he is investigating parasite proteins responsible for severe malaria that might be exploited in vaccine development. In parallel he has investigated how elements of chromatin structure regulate gene expression in P. falciparum. This work developed through his study of the epigenetic control of antigenic variation in P. falciparum and has diversified into the broader study of unique chromatin proteins in P. falciparum, including variant histones and bromodomain proteins. The latter are of particular interest as potential therapeutic targets.
Dr Duffy is currently available to supervise research projects in the general fields of molecular parasitology, gene expression, serology and epigenetics/chromatin. Specifically he is investigating chromatin proteins that regulate gene expression in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum and that could be useful drug targets. He is also investigating parasite proteins that are expressed on the surface of infected red blood cells and that could be used to create a vaccine protective from severe malaria disease.