£2.9m grant awarded to explore zoonotic malaria infection

16 January 2012

A major grant has been awarded to School researchers to investigate why an infection found only in monkeys appears to be increasingly affecting humans.

Thanks to the £2.9m grant, supported by four UK research councils (BBSRC, ESRC, NERC & MRC), researchers at the School will now be able to investigate how the parasite, previously  only identified in macaques, has crossed species and is now causing acute disease and death in humans.

The first official cross-transmission from monkey to man of Plasmodium knowlesi was confirmed in 1965 by an investigation in Malaysia. Since 2004, reports of infections have been increasing in South East Asia, some of which have severe or even fatal outcomes. 

To date, it is unclear if this increase is due to better diagnostics or other environmental and behavioural changes that might bring macaques and their associated mosquito vectors in closer contact with humans. 

Chris Drakeley and Rachel Hallett from the School's Malaria Centre will lead an international team with the skills to understand the clinical, social, entomological, primatological and environmental factors contributing to the transmission of this new infection, focusing their investigations in Palawan, in the Philippines, and Sabah, Malaysia.

The work will be conducted with research partners from the Universities of Glasgow and Greenwich in the UK, University of the Philippines Los BaÑos and Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (also in the Philippines), The Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the University of Sabah, both in Malaysia, and the Menzies School of Public Health in Australia.