The chemical language of the host-parasite interface

CFI awards $1.9M to the Chemical language of the host-parasite interface


Infection of an animal or human host  by a parasite is the outcome of an intense two-way chemical communication. Parasites and hosts negotiate the outcome of an interaction by exchanging chemical messages; the host employs a variety of immune responses to expel or minimize the parasite burden, while the parasite deploys proteins, nucleic acids and metabolites to subvert host responses and establish a safe haven inside. The interaction is complicated by the ability of the host to use other chemical agents – drugs – and the ability of parasites to evolve resistance to them. A long-standing goal of researchers at the Institute of Parasitology is to develop the technical capacity to gain a deep understanding of the molecular language of the host-parasite interface.  The new CFI9 award announced today represents a significant and highly welcome investment in fundamental research in this area.

Under the leadership of Dr. Timothy Geary, Canada Research Chair in Parasite Biotechnology and Director of McGill’s Institute of Parasitology, the research program will upgrade a variety of technical platforms at the Institute in protein biochemistry, nucleic acid sequencing, high-quality imaging and pharmacology. These instruments will be used by scientists at the Institute and their collaborators at McGill, in Québec and across Canada and North America to identify molecules used by parasites to modulate host immune responses. Additional research will focus on the identification of new targets in parasites suitable for the discovery of novel antiparasitic drugs, and on the identification of the mechanisms used by parasites to resist existing chemotherapeutic agents. Support of the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the provincial and federal governments for the fundamental research embodied in this project has great potential for downstream applications.

Understanding the molecular language of the host-parasite interface will enable the discovery of new and better ways to tilt the balance of these negotiations in favour of the host. Identifying parasite molecules released into the host will facilitate the development of better diagnostic tests. Identifying parasite molecules that play essential roles in host immunomodulation will open new avenues for rational vaccine discovery and development. We also expect this research to bring to bear better drugs for parasitic infections of veterinary and human importance in Canada and globally. Finally, the identification of molecules used by parasites to quiet the host immune system is expected to reveal novel and innovative strategies for therapy of human autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and asthma, which are increasing in our modern world.

Support for basic research is essential to foster truly innovative solutions to serious problems. The study of how hosts and parasites decide the outcome of infection is just such an example. More animals can be called “parasite” than any other designation, yet host species have evolved ways to prevent infection by almost all parasites. Understanding the basic biology of the host-parasite interaction promises to reveal new ways to reduce the global burden of parasitism – and to address the growing problem of autoimmune diseases.

Research Team:

Principal Investigator: timothy.g.geary [at] (Timothy Geary), Director, Institute of Parasitology (drug discovery/proteomics/genomics)

McGill University

roger.prichard [at] (Roger Prichard), James McGill Professor, Institute of Parasitology (Drug resistance/diagnostics/genomics)
armando.jardim [at] (Armando Jardim), Associate Professor, Institute of Parasitology (Functional proteomics/drug discovery)
mary.m.stevenson [at] (Mary Stevenson), Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology (Host-parasite interactions)
jeff.xia [at] (Jianguo (Jeff) Xia), Asst. Prof., Institute of Parasitology and Department of Animal Science (Bioinformatics/Metabolomics)

University of Calgary

aburet [at] (André Buret), Professor & Associate VP Research, Biological Sciences (Immunoparasitology/Gut microbiome)
dmckay [at] (Derek McKay), Professor, Physiology/Pharmacology (Immunoparasitology)

Institut Armand Frappier

albert.descoteaux [at] (Albert Descoteaux), Professor & Director, CHPI, Institut Armand Frappier, INRS (Host-parasite interactions)

Université de Montréal

mariela.segura [at] (Mariela Segura), Associate Professor, Département de pathologie et microbiologie, Faculté de médecine vétérinaire (Immunobiology/pathogenesis in swine)

University of Toronto

Aled Edwards, Prof. & Director, Structural Genomics (Chemical biology/Drug Discovery)





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