Campus News

University joins consortium for new malaria research center

Jessica Kissinger is a UGA professor of genetics

UGA 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 or 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, the 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 Jessica Kissinger, UGA professor of genetics, 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 also will 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 nonhuman 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.