Professor Simon Foote
Phone:
(03) 6226 7700
Private Bag:
23, Hobart TAS 7000
Position:
Honorary Fellow
Roles:
Honorary Fellow
Fax:
(03) 6226 7704
Research Interests:
Host Response to Malarial Parasites:

In close collaboration with Dr Brendan McMorran and Dr Gaetan Burgio, our group is interested in the host response to malaria. We are intrigued by the fact that although many (most) children in malarial endemic areas are infected with very similar, if not identical malarial parasites, only a small percentage of children succumb to disease. We are convinced there is substantial difference in the host response to infection and are trying to determine these differences and to exploit them to develop new antimalarial therapies.

We use a number of model systems to study the host response of malaria. Mice are infected by a species of malaria similar to that infecting humans. We use mice to test many of our hypotheses. We also can culture the human malarial parasite P. falciparum and this is an excellent model for testing hypotheses relevant to the host immune response to malaria.

We have recently demonstrated that platelets, the small cells that cause blood to clot, are excellent anti-malarial agents. They specifically bind infected red cells and can kill the malarial parasite living within these cells. We are currently chasing down the molecular mechanism underpinning this phenomenon. This opens an entire area of novel antimalarial research and suggests new ways to manage a malarial infection in children.

We are also interested in developing new ways to treat malarial infections with drugs. Up until know, all drugs are directed at the parasite. Unfortunately the parasite is able to develop mechanisms of resistance to render these drugs useless. It does this by mutating genes within its genome (these are actually random changes that are selected because they give parasites carrying these mutations a growth advantage) that cause the parasite to become resistant. We are developing new targets for antimalarial drugs that will avoid this resistance problem. These targets are host molecules that are beyond the genome of the parasite. We have identified a susceptible pathway and have evidence that interfering with the function of these molecules in the host will cause the parasite to die. This should allow the production of antimalarials that have a much longer life span than the current crop.

In order to increase the number of available host-directed therapeutic targets, and to increase our knowledge of the host response to malarial infection, we are conducting a large, high throughput ENU mutagenesis screen to identify mice that are resistant to infection by a mouse malarial species. We will identify the causative genes in resistant mice and these will provide useful new information on the mechanisms of resistance as well as possibly adding to our armamentarium of new, host targets.

Genetics of Human Disease:

In collaboration with Dr Jo Dickinson, Dr Russell Thomson and Dr Jim Stankovich we are searching for genes predisposing people to cancer. We use the unique attributes of the Tasmanian population to isolate large pedigrees segregating susceptibility genes for either haematological malignancies or prostate cancer. Dr Dickinson and her colleagues have identified a gene responsible for some cases of prostate cancer and we have good evidence for a location for other genes responsible for leukaemia in large Tasmanian families.

In collaboration with Dr Bruce Taylor and colleagues in Melbourne, we are working towards the identification of genes predisposing people to multiple sclerosis. This is a disease with a high incidence in Tasmania, probably due to the lower latitude of the island. It has a strong genetic component and we have identified several candidates.
* Denotes Menzies Researcher