Ian Bathurst Global Health Travel Award recipient – Sonam Vijay

Sonam Vijay
Sonam Vijay, PhD student, Senior Research Fellow, National Institute of Malaria Research, India

Current area of research: mechanisms of parasite killing

 1. What attracted you to malaria research?

I am from India where malaria is a very dreadful problem. We all know it’s a leading cause of death, particularly if there is a delay in treatment. After completing my undergraduate studies in biotechnology, I met some seniors who were doing malaria research; I was motivated by the objective of conducting such meaningful research and so I set out to find an opportunity. Luckily, I got a placement at the National Institute of Malaria Research.

2. What excites you about drug discovery?

Despite various global efforts like use of insecticides and bed nets as well as vaccine research, malaria control is still a problem partly due to the development of parasites resistant to insecticides and medicines. It’s the impact that research to find new drugs could have that excites me.

3. How have you pursued these interests to date?

One of the current projects running in the lab is looking at P. vivax aspartic proteases, which could be a potential drug target. Amongst other things, parasite proteases provide nutrition to the malaria parasite when it’s in the red blood cell and so play a critical role in the growth and survival of the parasite.

We have identified some potential antimalarial compounds that may inhibit the aspartic protease activity in P. vivax. These molecules could be useful not only as possible drugs but also to help us better understand the biology of the parasite and thereby help identify other antimalarial drugs.

4. What do you see as the greatest challenge regarding malaria eradication?

In the long-term, I think a vaccine would be a great tool, but the biggest challenge is to develop one that will be effective enough. We are still a long way from that. For example, I recently read that there is a danger vaccines could also have the opposite effect and urge the parasite to become more virulent. I think we still have a lot to learn.

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

I have been doing malaria research for the past 5 yrs. I am a young researcher and always keen to learn more and better establish myself in the field. At the meeting, both academia and industry came together, which offered me a glimpse of the different kinds of research going on. The conference increased my understanding of new drug targets, research on vaccine and the biology of protozoan parasites and vectors. It not only helped me to develop new research ideas, but also expedite the projects we are currently carrying out.

6. What are your near and long-term career goals and how has the Keystone Meeting helped you on your path to achieve them?

I have just completed my doctorate studies on nitric oxide synthase, an enzyme involved in the innate immune response to malaria. Our team have since established a mechanism of parasite killing by using nitric oxide to inhibit aspartic protease. I now wish to explore the use of these compounds as malaria drugs. In the long-term, I wish to establish myself as a researcher in this field.

The conference was the first international malaria conference I have attended so I am really thankful to MMV for having selected me. It was very exciting to meet the scientists and leading professionals in malaria research, to be able to discuss my work and to get new ideas on malaria drug discovery research.