Ian Bathurst Global Health Travel Award recipient – Neils Ben Quashie
Current area of research: Drug resistance in malarial infection
1. What prompted your research interest in malaria?
After University in Ghana, we do mandatory national service, which is effectively voluntary work for the nation. For my national service, I was posted to a government hospital where many children with malaria were admitted daily. Some of the children on the wards were in a coma and their mothers were distraught – it was a terrifying scene. Every time, I saw these distressed children I got upset and I said no, this is a disease that needs our utmost attention and I said yes I need to spend the rest of my life fighting for its eradication.
2. How has malaria affected your life?
I grew up in an area in Ghana where malaria transmission is high and so I had several episodes of the disease during my childhood; when I was a kid it was almost every year. Since my parents were poor we were hardly sent to the clinic when we got infected. I guess I was lucky that I survived these encounters. It was not until my posting to the hospital on national service that I realized how close I could have been to death.
Today, I am the ‘malaria man’ in my family and so my friends and family call me any time they suspect they might have malaria. I can even diagnose and treat the disease. But, now knowing what the disease can do, I take the necessary precautions to avoid being infected.
3. What excites you about drug discovery?
Since most parasites have developed resistance to currently available antimalarial drugs, discovery of novel drugs is crucial for the survival of humankind, especially children in disease-endemic areas.
4. Can you explain what area of malaria biology you are researching and why it is so important?
My main research focus is drug resistance in malaria infection. I am a member of a malaria surveillance team which monitors the efficacy of antimalarial drugs in Ghana. We use in vivo, in vitro and molecular methods to achieve this. Our research findings formed the basis of a change from the use of chloroquine to artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) as the first-line antimalarial drug in Ghana in 2005. As a result, many children’s lives were saved as the parasites had by then become highly resistant to the then drug of choice, chlorquine.
I am also interested in studying the unique biochemistry of the malaria parasite in order to identify targets for potential antimalarial drugs. In this regard, I studied ‘purine transporters in Plasmodium falciparum as a target for anti-purine drugs’ for my PhD. The malaria parasite is unable to synthesise purine for itself and soit has tosalvage the nutrient from the host milieu through transporters. By identifying the transporters in the parasite we identify new targets for drug discovery.
5. What were the benefits of attending this drug discovery conference?
The benefits were enormous. I was able to meet, interact and learn from some of the top malarialogists in the world. Since I also lecture at the university, some of the knowledge I acquired has filtered down to my students.
6. What are your near and long-term career goals and how will the Keystone meeting help you to fulfil these?
My goal is to contribute to the development of an effective and a low-cost system for monitoring drug resistance in malaria-endemic countries. I also hope to be able to discover novel drug targets in the malaria parasite. Topics presented and discussed at this meeting were really helpful in this regard. I was also able to meet scientists with similar goals who gave me lots of encouragement and hope. I hope some of the people I met will one day become my research collaborators.
Neils Ben Quashie, Research Fellow/ Lecturer, University of Ghana Medical School & Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, Ghana