Alfred Cortés, ICREA Research Professor in ISGlobal’s Malaria Programme, leads one of the selected projects in "la Caixa" 2019 Health Research Call. The project, entitled “Dissecting the initial molecular events that trigger sexual conversion and transmission in malaria parasites”, will focus on the parasite’s lifecycle.
Malaria is a parasitic disease transmitted to humans through the bite of the Anopheles mosquito. The most severe form of the disease is caused by Plasmodium falciparum, a unicellular parasite that reproduces through an asexual and a sexual phase. Most of the parasites in the bloodstream reproduce asexually. However, some convert to the sexual phase. This sexual form can infect the Anopheles mosquito, which in turn will transmit the disease to other humans. With the aim of stopping malaria transmission, Cortés seeks to understand the process whereby the parasites converts from the asexual to the sexual phase. The process is controlled at the epigenetic level.
The project is one of the high-impact, pioneer research projects funded by ”la Caixa” in 2019 under the second edition of the Health Research Call. These awards aim to support groundbreaking projects of scientific excellence in the fight against high-burden diseases such as cardiovascular, neurological, oncological, and infectious diseases.
An epigenetic approach to malaria
After obtaining a PhD in Biology for his work on Drosophila DNA binding proteins (CID-CSIC, Barcelona), Cortés gave a strong turn to his career and started to implement his molecular biology skills to the study of malaria parasites. He worked for four years as Head of the Molecular Parasitology lab at the Papua New Guinea IMR, where his research mainly focused on basic malaria parasite biology, but also on the epidemiological aspects of the disease.
Back to Europe, he worked for over two years at the MRC-NIMR (London) on epigenetic regulation of gene expression and invasion of erythrocytes by malaria parasites. In 2006 he moved to IRB Barcelona with an ICREA Jr. contract. In 2011 he joined CRESIB-ISGlobal, and in 2012 he was appointed ICREA Research Professor.
The current research of the ISGlobal Malaria Epigenetics lab that he directs focuses mainly on epigenetic regulation of gene expression in malaria parasites, but also on other processes regulated at the transcriptional level.