Campus News Science & Technology

UGA partners with Emory, Georgia Tech and CDC Foundation on malaria research center

Jessica Kissinger is a UGA professor of genetics

Athens, Ga. – The University of Georgia, an internationally recognized leader in tropical and emerging global diseases and bioinformatics, will partner with other Georgia institutions to establish a comprehensive center that will study the systems biology of nonhuman primate and human malaria.

The Georgia consortium, led by Mary Galinski of Emory University, has been awarded a five-year contract worth up to $19.4 million to establish the Malaria Host-Pathogen Interaction Center (MaHPIC). The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, awarded the funding. The exact amount of the award will depend on contract options exercised.

Consortium partners include UGA, Georgia Institute of Technology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation. The Yerkes National Primate Research Center of Emory University will administer the contract.

UGA will receive a subcontract of more than $2 million to lead the project’s informatics efforts, which includes the collection, integration, visualization and dissemination of the massive amounts of “-omic” data that will be generated by MaHPIC researchers.

“The combined expertise of the consortium partners makes MaHPIC uniquely equipped to address issues related to pathogens that cause malaria, a disease that involves complex interactions between hosts and parasites,” said UGA professor of genetics Jessica Kissinger, MaHPIC co-principal investigator and leader of the project’s informatics team. Kissinger also is director of UGA’s Institute of Bioinformatics, and a member of UGA’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases.

For the study of malaria, “systems biology” means first collecting comprehensive data on how a Plasmodium parasite infection produces changes in host and parasite genes, proteins, lipids, the immune response and metabolism. Computational researchers will then design mathematical models to simulate and analyze what happens during an infection and to find patterns that predict the course of the disease and its severity. Together, the insights will help guide the development of new interventions. Co-infections and morbidities will also come into play, as well as different cultural and environmental backgrounds of the communities involved.

Emory investigators’ interdisciplinary experience in malaria research, metabolomics, lipidomics and human and non-human primate immunology and pathogenesis will be combined with UGA’s expertise in informatics, and Georgia Tech researchers’ expertise in mathematical modeling, systems biology and functional genomics. CDC researchers will provide support in proteomics and malaria research, including non-human primate and vector/mosquito infections.

The MaHPIC project builds on Kissinger’s informatics work with EuPathDB, an NIH-funded online database portal to multiple eukaryotic pathogens, including Plasmodium. Also at UGA, Juan Gutierrez, assistant professor of mathematics, will lead mathematical modeling and data management for the UGA informatics team. He is integrally involved with an NIH-funded International Center of Excellence for Malaria Research in Colombia, South America.

“MaHPIC will generate experimental, clinical and molecular data associated with malaria infections in nonhuman primates on an unprecedented scale,” said Kissinger.

“In addition to mining the massive quantities of integrated data for trends and patterns that may help us understand host and pathogen interaction biology, we may identify potential targets for early and species-specific diagnosis of malaria, which is critical for proper treatment,” she said.

The MaHPIC team will develop an informative public website and specialized web portal to share the project’s data and newly developed data analysis tools with the scientific community worldwide.

Malaria is endemic in about 100 countries including many developing countries in Africa, Asia, and the tropics. Hundreds of millions of people are infected by the mosquito-borne disease each year, and more than one million – mostly children – die. In addition to its human toll, malaria imposes a severe economic burden.

MaHPIC is supported by NIAID contract # HHSN272201200031C.

UGA Institute of Bioinformatics
The University of Georgia Institute of Bioinformatics facilitates interactions and research collaborations between experimental biologists, “-omics” technologists and computational scientists to solve complex biological problems. The IOB is training the next generation of biologists who are capable of using computers and mathematical techniques in dealing with biological problems. Team members are actively conducting bioinformatics research on genomics, plant genomics, microbial genomics, biomedicine and cancer, pharmaceuticals, glycobiology and statistical sciences. The institute also is responsible for the computing support for campus-wide bioinformatics research at UGA. See

UGA Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases
The University of Georgia Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases draws on a strong foundation of parasitology, immunology, cellular and molecular biology, biochemistry and genetics to develop medical and public health interventions for at-risk populations. The center promotes international biomedical research and educational programs at UGA and throughout Georgia to address the parasitic and other tropical diseases that continue to threaten the health of people throughout the world. See