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University of Maryland School of Medicine Researcher Named a 2007 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator

Thursday, October 11, 2007

 Dr. Christopher Plowe is the first Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator from the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Dr. Christopher V. Plowe is working to create effective drug treatments and vaccines for malaria

Christopher V. Plowe, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and chief of the malaria section at its Center for Vaccine Development, has been named a 2007 Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator. The appointment will enable Dr. Plowe to further his research on creating a malaria vaccine that protects against genetically diverse forms of the malaria parasite and to develop combination drug therapies for malaria that combat the emergence of drug-resistant parasites. Dr. Plowe is one of only 15 new HHMI Investigators in patient-oriented research. HHMI selected its first group of patient-oriented researchers in 2002.

The new HHMI investigators, who come from 13 institutions across the United States, were selected in a nationwide competition. Once selected, HHMI investigators continue to be based at their home institutions, typically leading a research group of 10-25 students, postdoctoral associates and technicians, but they become HHMI employees.
Dr. Plowe joined the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1995 to create a new molecular and field-based malaria research program at the Center for Vaccine Development (CVD), which has a long tradition of malaria research. "Human trials that tested live malaria vaccines delivered by mosquitoes were first pioneered at the CVD in the early 1970s by Dr. David Clyde, who had spent the 1950s studying drug-resistant malaria in Africa," says Dr. Plowe. "I feel like I have followed in his footsteps from the lab to the field and back to the lab. The School of Medicine and the CVD have been a great place to build a clinical translational malaria research program, because I can just walk down the hall and find researchers who span the whole spectrum from very upstream basic molecular research to clinical trials in the tropics involving tens of thousands of people."

Dr. Plowe, who lives in Fulton, Maryland, travels frequently to Mali and Malawi, two African nations plagued by malaria. "Malaria is a mosquito-borne parasite that kills more than 5,000 people every day, 90 percent of whom are children in Africa under the age of five," he says. "Malaria parasites mutate and evolve so quickly that drugs and vaccines are always chasing a moving target."

During his career, Dr. Plowe has developed and validated molecular markers that can be used to monitor the malaria parasite’s resistance to the two most important malaria drugs of the 20th century, chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine. Using that information, Dr. Plowe and his colleagues have created strategies to extend the useful life of those drugs. The rapid molecular tests he has developed to document drug resistance are now being used worldwide. "We are now working on a vaccine that might eventually prevent malaria and eliminate the need to use those therapeutic drugs at all," he says. "If we can understand the impact of diversity on vaccine efficacy in the field, we can go back to the lab and engineer a more broadly protective vaccine."

"In his years at the CVD, Chris has done a magnificent job of building a world class, multi-faceted, internationally recognized malaria research and training operation," says Myrone Levine, M.D., D.T.P.H., the Grollman Distinguished Professor of Medicine and director of the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "He manages to balance his efforts as an innovative, well-funded, productive laboratory researcher, a superb field epidemiologist, an inspiring and dedicated teacher, a superior clinician, a highly effective mentor to junior faculty and a provider of service to the community at large. I and all the faculty, staff and trainees at the CVD are immensely proud of Chris and his extraordinary accomplishments, in particular becoming a member of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute."

"Dr. Plowe is the first Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and we are extremely proud of his achievement," says E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland and dean of the School of Medicine. "This recognition from HHMI validates Dr. Plowe’s extraordinary efforts to eradicate malarial diseases and will help him translate that work from discoveries made in the laboratory to actual treatments and cures for the millions of people in the world who suffer from this disease."

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a non-profit medical research organization that is one of the nation’s largest philanthropies, plays a powerful role in advancing biomedical research and science education in the United States. In the past two decades HHMI has made investments of more than $8.3 billion for the support, training and education of the nation’s most creative and promising scientists.

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