Professor Mike Blackman
BSc MSc PhD
of Molecular Parasitology
My group focuses on host cell invasion and egress by the malaria parasite, with a particular interest in proteolytic enzymes involved in these events. Research in our lab makes extensive use of biochemical techniques and cell biology, with much application of heterologous expression systems and genetic modification by transfection of the human malaria parasites Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium knowlesi. Currently, much of our work is centred on the structure, function and substrates of a subtilisin-like parasite protease called SUB1 and a cysteine protease called SERA6 that play key roles in egress, as well as the upstream protease and kinase-mediated signals that trigger SUB1 activity.
I teach externally at UCL and was until recently Scientific Coordinator of an EU-funded Initial Training Network called ‘InterMalTraining – intervention strategies against malaria’ which contributed to training of a European-wide cohort of 13 PhD students. In addition I have supervised a total of 17 PhD students to completion of their projects in my laboratory, and currently co-supervise 1 PhD student.
Malaria is a devastating disease which impacts on the lives of about half of the world’s population. Malaria parasites infect and grow within red blood cells, replicating asexually within a membrane-bound parasitophorous vacuole. In a process called egress, the vacuole and host cell membranes eventually rupture to release merozoites which invade new cells, disseminating the infection and leading to clinical disease. Our research focuses primarily on the molecular mechanisms involved in invasion and egress by Plasmodium falciparum, the agent of the most dangerous form of malaria. We wish to understand the molecular mechanisms by which the parasite enters and exits its host cell, and we are working to dissect the structural changes that occur in the host erythrocyte and at the parasite surface during invasion and egress. In collaboration with chemists and structural biologists, we aim to translate this information into health benefits by seeking to identify drug-like inhibitors of enzymes and other parasite molecules involved in egress and invasion, and promote their development as potential antimalarial drugs. Our work has also provided information on how to improve the design of much-needed malaria vaccines based on merozoite surface proteins. Our work is currently funded by the Francis Crick Institute, LifeArc, and the Wellcome Trust.
I am on the Editorial board of the journals PLoS Pathogens, Molecular Microbiology and Eukaryotic Cell, and sit on the Executive Committee of the EVIMalaR European Network of Excellence (www.evimalar.org).