Queen's University receives $765,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

May 15, 2000

KINGSTON, Ontario-A Queen's University pathologist/biochemist, who is developing an inexpensive and effective treatment for malaria has been awarded $765,000 (U.S.) from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant to Dr. Robert Kisilevsky is the first awarded to a Canadian university research project by the Seattle-based charitable foundation.

The grant will enable Dr. Kisilevsky to further his research on finding a way to limit the infection caused by the malaria parasite into host cells, and its spreading into tissues. Dr. Kisilvevsky and his team of scientists hope to develop agents to prevent protein-carbohydrate binding, effectively inhibiting further infection by malaria parasites.

"The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given us a wonderful opportunity to apply the expertise we acquired in our amyloid and Alzheimer's program to the problem of malaria," said Dr. Kisilevsky. "Although it may seem strange to think there are similarities between these two diverse diseases, there are some remarkable parallels at a molecular level. At this level, we will be exploring some novel ideas concerning the process of malarial infection. The information we develop should allow the chemist members of our team, headed by Dr. W.A. Szarek, to design and synthesize new anti-malarial agents, which will limit or abort such infections."

Primarily a disease of tropical countries, malaria affects 300 to 500 million people a year. The disease kills about two million people annually, most of them children in sub-Saharan Africa. Drug treatments exist, but the malaria parasite continues to develop resistance against them. With increasing intercontinental travel, increasing numbers of malaria cases are being seen in Canada.

The malaria parasite enters the human body through mosquito bites. It settles in the liver, where it grows and multiplies. The parasites then move into the blood stream, living in the red blood cells and leading to the infection of other tissues, including the brain. Mosquitoes feeding on infected individuals acquire the parasite, and then, spread the disease to other persons.

"By limiting the infection in humans, we not only are able to reduce the parasite pool in the human hosts, but we also are able to reduce the probability of its transmission to others," explained Dr. Kisilevsky.

Dr. Kisilevsky will work with Queen's co-investigators Dr. Walter Szarek, a carbohydrate chemist; Dr. Jim Kennedy, an oncologist with an interest in malaria; and Dr. John Ancsin, an expert in protein-carbohydrate binding, to define the molecular structures that bind the proteins found on the surface of the parasite with carbohydrates found on the host cells.

This novel approach to malaria treatment builds on groundbreaking experimental work by the research team on amyloids. Amyloids are abnormal deposits of protein complexes that kill healthy cells in illnesses, such as Alzheimer's disease. A similar protein-carbohydrate binding takes place in contracting malaria as in Alzheimer's.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is dedicated to improving people's lives by sharing advances in health and learning with the global community. Led by Bill Gates' father, William H. Gates, Sr., and Patty Stonesifer, the Seattle-based Foundation has an asset base of approximately $21.8 billion. Preventing deadly diseases among poor children by expanding access to vaccines, and developing vaccines against malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, are central priorities. Other major efforts include extending unprecedented opportunities for learning by bringing computers with Internet access to every eligible public library in the U.S. and Canada, and providing scholarships to academically talented minority students in the U.S. with severe financial need through the Gates Millennium Scholars Program ( www.gmsp.org ). For complete information and grant guidelines, visit www.gatesfoundation.org .

Queen's University

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