Ian Bathurst Global Health Travel Award recipient – Sameena Khan

Sameena Khan
Sameena Khan, PhD student, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, India

Current area of research: Structural biology of malaria parasite (Plasmodium falciparum) proteins

1. What prompted your research interest in malaria?

I have always had an interest in basic sciences, which led me to conduct a PhD in structural biology focusing on P. falciparum, the causative agent for the most severe form of malaria. As my understanding of the parasite’s biology has deepened, my interest has increased.

2. How has malaria affected your life?

I had a malaria infection when I was at college. The experience was horrifying. Many of my friends and family have also suffered and so I know how painful and life threatening it is. Today, studying the parasite’s biochemistry and the strategies it has evolved, and continues to evolve to protect it from our immune system, has kept me hooked.

3. What excites you about drug discovery?

It’s exciting as you get to see molecules at play, structurally and at the atomic level. It’s also incredibly impressive to see the subtle evolutionary modifications that render Plasmodium protection against our immune system, making it so virulent. Apart from the excitement of the science itself, the implications of our research to save lives via the identification of a new antimalarial has an excitement of its own.

4. Can you explain what area of malaria biology you are researching and why it is so important?

Our lab is researching the malaria parasite’s proteins. We are looking for differences in structure and function of the protein translation machinery between Plasmodium and human. Owing to their essential role in parasite survival, the translational machinery can provide ideal targets for drug design.

Findings from our lab have unravelled unique aspects of the parasite’s biochemistry and helped us better understand the molecular machinery of Plasmodium. My work has laid the foundations for novel intervention strategies and provided new drug candidates.

At the Keystone symposia, I presented my work explaining a potential mechanism of action for the antimalarial compound cladosporin and proposing how the selectivity and efficacy of next-generation compounds could be increased.

5. What do you see as the greatest challenge we face in global efforts to eradicate malaria?

In my view, anti-malarial drug resistance is the greatest challenge, which is why we need continually to keep finding new drugs.

6. What were the benefits of attending this drug discovery conference?

The possibility to interact with distinguished malaria researchers is always very compelling. The Keystone conference offered that possibility. I was able to exchange ideas with researchers working on different areas of the malaria parasite’s biology. The discussions provided a fresh perspective and opportunities for collaboration. I interacted with people working on the liver stage of parasite, which complements my area of research.

7. What are your career goals and how has the Keystone symposia help you towards fulfilling them? 

I would like to continue working on malaria. In near future, I will apply for a fellowship to support my postdoc research. Ultimately, I would like to become an independent researcher continuing to look at the key biological functions of parasite proteins to identify new therapeutic targets. During the symposia, I was able to meet many people who share common interests and research objectives with whom I could collaborate with.