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UM School of Medicine Researchers Receive $9 Million Grant for Malaria Research

Thursday, May 04, 2017

 Christopher Plowe, MD, MPH and Myaing Myaing Nyunt, MD, MPH, PhD

UM SOM Institute for Global Health Scientists Will Focus on Understanding Drug-Resistant Malaria in Southeast Asia

The University of Maryland School of Medicine has been awarded an International Center of Excellence for Malaria Research (ICEMR) grant by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), one of seven ICEMRs awarded worldwide. With funding of more than $9 million over seven years, the grant will be used to research and develop new tools to help eliminate drug-resistant malaria in Myanmar and neighboring countries in Southeast Asia.

Principal investigators for the project are the husband-and-wife team of Christopher Plowe, MD, MPH, the Frank M. Calla MD Professor of Medicine and Founding Director of the Institute for Global Health (IGH), University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM), and Myaing Myaing Nyunt, MD, MPH, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Director of IGH Myanmar in the Division of Malaria Research (DMR) at the IGH. 

“The initial strategy was to try to contain drug-resistant malaria and prevent it from spreading, but our research will help us move forward toward completely eliminating malaria from this region,” said Dr. Plowe.

Despite significant progress in reducing malaria incidence and mortality, the World Health Organization estimates that roughly 212 million new cases of malaria and 429,000 malaria deaths occurred in 2015 alone. In addition, drug-resistant cases are on the rise. The emergence of multi-drug resistant malaria parasites in Southeast Asia is especially concerning to public health officials, who fear it may spread worldwide, resulting in untreatable malaria.

At sites in central Myanmar and on both sides of its borders with China and Bangladesh, the new Myanmar Regional Center of Excellence for Malaria Research will integrate findings from clinical and field research, including molecular surveillance, genomics, and geospatial mapping and modeling of malaria risk, to provide essential knowledge, tools, and evidence-based strategies to stratify malaria risk, with the ultimate aim of accelerating malaria elimination in the region.

IGH has already conducted genetic studies to track the emergence and spread of resistance to artemisinins, the first line drugs used to treat malaria worldwide. They have also developed highly sensitive diagnostic tests for low-level malaria infections that serve as a reservoir, causing no symptoms in infected people. “We think these ‘silent’ infections may be a critical source of ongoing malaria transmission that are missed by standard tests and interventions,” said Dr. Nyunt, who is originally from Myanmar.

The grant number is 1U19AI129386-01.

“The spread of drug-resistant malaria is a growing public health problem in many parts of the world, and our research will help eradicate this disease, building upon our long legacy of advancing research in developing countries,” said UM SOM Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, who is also Vice President for Medical Affairs at the University of Maryland and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor. “Research conducted through our Institute for Global Health has already helped save many lives, and this generous grant from NIAID will allow our scientists -- working with national and international partners -- to continue their important work of making malaria a disease of the past."

About the Institute of Global Health

The IGH, established in 2015 at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, is dedicated to improving global health by conducting innovative, world-leading research in Baltimore and around the world. Led by Founding Director Christopher Plowe, MD, MPH, FASTMH, the institute develops new and improved ways of diagnosing, preventing, treating, controlling, and eradicating diseases of global impact. Currently, these diseases include malaria, Ebola, and vaccine-preventable infectious diseases such as measles.

About the University of Maryland School of Medicine

Celebrating its 210th Anniversary, the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine was chartered in 1807 and is the first public medical school in the United States and continues today as an innovative leader in accelerating innovation and discovery in medicine. The School of Medicine is the founding school of the University of Maryland and is an integral part of the 11-campus University System of Maryland. Located on the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine works closely with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide a research-intensive, academic and clinically based education. With 43 academic departments, centers and institutes and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians and research scientists plus more than $400 million in extramural funding, the School is regarded as one of the leading biomedical research institutions in the U.S. with top-tier faculty and programs in cancer, brain science, surgery and transplantation, trauma and emergency medicine, vaccine development and human genomics, among other centers of excellence. The School is not only concerned with the health of the citizens of Maryland and the nation, but also has a global presence, with research and treatment facilities in more than 35 countries around the world.

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