Dyann Wirth – Harnessing Genomics: Evolution of Infectious Diseases in the Era of Eradication

wirth-smSegal Lecture
“Harnessing Genomics: Evolution of Infectious Diseases in the Era of Eradication”

Dyann Wirth, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; The Broad Institute

Friday, June 23, 2017, 8 – 9pm
Lillie Auditorium
Lectures are free and open to the public.
Livestreaming at videocenter.mbl.edu.

INTRODUCER: George Langford, Professor and Dean Emeritus, College of Arts and Sciences, Syracuse University

Lecture Abstract:

Malaria is an important human disease and is the target of a global eradication campaign. New technological and informatics advancements in population genomics are being leveraged to identify genetic loci under selection in the malaria parasite and to find variants that are associated with key clinical phenotypes, such as drug resistance. This talk will center on how population-genetics-based strategies are being applied to Plasmodium falciparum both to identify genetic loci as key targets of interventions and to develop monitoring and surveillance tools that are crucial for the successful elimination and eradication of malaria.

Professor Dyann Wirth has been a major leader in the area of malaria research for more than thirty years. Her work has provided completely new insight into how the malaria parasite has evolved, specifically in the areas of population biology, drug resistance, and antigenicity. The Wirth laboratory blends the scientific environments of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Broad Institute, and research institutions from across the globe to create a unique malaria research and training network that brings together scientists with expertise in molecular biology, genetics, genomics, population genetics, chemistry, cell biology, epidemiology, computational biology, biostatistics, and leading clinicians in infectious diseases and pathology.

Using this approach, the Wirth group is working to understand the mechanisms of drug resistance in Plasmodium falciparum, the major human malaria parasite. Leveraging the genomic tools of the human genomic project, the group has applied state of the art technologies and novel approaches to better understand the fundamental biology of the malaria parasite and mechanisms of drug resistance. The group’s current efforts seek to determine both the number and identity of genes expressed by the parasite in response to drug treatment and to evaluate the role of these genes for parasite survival. This work aims to understand basic molecular mechanisms in protozoan parasites with the long-term goal of discovering and applying preventive and therapeutic interventions against malaria infection. Her research activities are made possible through collaborative research partnerships with investigators, universities, and clinical centers in Africa, Asia, and South America. Professor Wirth recognized the importance of bringing cutting edge genomic science to the study of infectious diseases and joined The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard shortly after its establishment to lead its infectious diseases initiative. A large collaborative group at the Broad Institute has focused on both malaria parasite and mosquito biology, making major contributions to our understanding of malaria vaccine efficacy and the evolution of drug and insecticide resistance.

Together with partners in the malaria community, Professor Wirth is involved in a university-wide effort to produce, transmit, and translate knowledge to support the control and ultimate eradication of malaria. This initiative is spearheaded by the Chan School of Public Health in collaboration with the Harvard Global Health Institute, and was launched in partnership with the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Health in Agenda 2030 and for Malaria. This university-wide initiative is called Defeating Malaria: From the Genes to the Globe.

Professor Wirth is current fellow and past president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene and Joseph Augustine LePrince Medal recipient; a past board member of the Burroughs-Wellcome Fund and Marine Biological Laboratory; a member of the National Academy of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.


About the Segal Lecture:

The Segal Lecture is held in memory of Sheldon J. Segal, former Chairman of the MBL Board of Trustees, an MBL visiting investigator, Vice President and Distinguished Scientist at the Population Council, and a leading authority on global population issues, family planning, and contraceptive technology. The Segal Lecture takes place annually, alternating years between the MBL and the Population Council in New York City.