Tobias Spielmann receives ERC Advanced Grant

Picture BNITM

The European Research Council funds cutting-edge research on drug resistance in malaria parasites.

22.04.2021 · Life Sciences · Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine · HP-Topnews · People

Dr. Tobias Spielmann, head of the research group "Malaria" in the section Molecular Biology and Immunology at the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNITM), has been awarded an ERC Advanced Grant of almost 2.4 million euros by the European Research Council (ERC). With this highly endowed funding, the research group will investigate specific forms of drug resistance in malaria parasites over the next five years.

Every year, more than 200 million people contract malaria and more than 400,000 die from the mosquito-borne parasitic infection. World Malaria Day (April 25), proclaimed by the World Health Organization (WHO), is also a reminder that more than three billion people in the world are at risk from malaria. After years of steady decline, the WHO last year for the first time again recorded an increase to around 228 million malaria cases worldwide.

Among other things, the increase in drug resistance of malaria parasites is blamed for the rise in the number of cases. Artemisinin is the most important antimalarial drug, particularly for treating severe, life-threatening forms of the disease. For some years now, resistance to artemisinin has increasingly been observed. If this development continues to increase in the coming years, it could jeopardize the effective treatment and control of malaria.

Malaria parasite in blood cell. The artemisinin derivative DHA is very common in malaria therapy. DHA has a direct effect on the parasite (red arrow). Resistant parasites produce an altered protein (glowing green). This mechanism inhibits the effect of the drug (green arrow).

The ERC Advanced Grant-supported research project, entitled "MalArt," is investigating the molecular mechanisms responsible for the increasing resistance of malaria parasites to the drug artemisinin. "We would like to better understand at the molecular level how resistant malaria parasites escape the effects of artemisinin. These studies might inform approaches to counteract resistance and might permit adapting therapies accordingly," says group leader Spielmann, explaining his project goal.

Prof. Egbert Tannich, Chairman of the BNITM board of directors, is also pleased about the award: "Funding by an ERC Advanced Grant is a great success for Tobias Spielmann and his research group and once again emphasizes the scientific performance of our institute."

Spielmann has been head of the "Malaria" research group at BNITM since 2010 and during this time carried out a number of internationally acclaimed studies on the cell biology of malaria parasites. This includes initial work on artemisinin resistance, which was published last year by the renowned journal "Science" (Birnbaum & Scharf et al., Science 2020).

ERC Advanced Grants are awarded to established top researchers with an outstanding scientific track record and an excellent research project. The project "MalArt" will be funded for a period of five years.

Background material

The European Research Council awards ERC Advanced Grants to established, active, top-level researchers with an outstanding scientific track record who wish to explore new areas of research. The last ten years prior to application are decisive for the evaluation of the scientific performance. As a basis for the evaluation, the ERC considers - depending on the discipline in different weighting - the publications as first author in leading international journals, (translated) monographs, patents, presentations at international conferences, research expeditions, the organization of international conferences as well as (inter)national science awards and academy memberships of the applicant.

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