Genes targeted for potential new-generation drugs:
Alex Maier chose Australia as the best place to further his studies seeking a cure for malaria – a disease that kills more than one million people every year, most of them children.
This year the former German scientist was chosen as Victorian finalist in the highly contested Eureka Prizes ‘People’s Choice Award’ promoted by the ABC, particularly on its television science program, Catalyst.
The award is sponsored by the Australian Museum and the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research to increase awareness of the work of the nation’s scientists and help promote careers in science for the next generation.
The La Trobe University molecular biologist and five other candidates were selected from hundreds of entries received in this year’s Eureka Prizes for research and innovation because ‘they exemplify the talent and diversity of Australian science’.
It is the second year in a row Dr Maier has been chosen as a finalist in the Eureka Prizes – the Oscars of Australian Science – although it was his first tilt at the People’s Choice Award.
Key adaptive strategy
Dr Maier and his research team on La Trobe’s Melbourne campus have uncovered a key adaptive strategy used by the malaria parasite to survive in – and cause damage to – its human host. They have identified special proteins that help the parasites stick to, and replicate on the inner lining of blood vessels.
Using a process known as ‘gene knock-out technology’, he and his team have documented more than 30 genes essential for the malaria parasite’s survival. These genes are now being targeted for potential new-generation drugs to combat malaria.
‘The number of effective anti-malarial drugs is dwindling due to the spread of drug resistance,’ says Dr Maier, ‘and the demand for new, safe and affordable interventions is higher than ever before.’
Dr Maier’s research team collaborates with researchers in Europe, India and Africa. Their work is supported by the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Dr Maier came to Australia from Germany ten years ago as a post-doctoral researcher to work at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and joined La Trobe three years ago.