ID Fellow Receives Two Awards to Research Malaria Parasite That Avoids Rapid Test Detection

Jonathan Parr, MD, MPH, stands on the banks of the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Jonathan Parr, MD, MPH, stands on the banks of the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Jonathan Parr, MD, MPH, Infectious Diseases Fellow, recently secured two funding sources to further his research into how a malaria parasite in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is avoiding rapid test detection.

Parr is the recipient of a Thrasher Research Fund Early Career Award for $25,000. Analyses of samples collected during the 2013 Demographic and Health Survey in the DRC identified two geographic clusters with a high number of cases of malaria in children with a gene deletion that allowed the parasite to go undetected in first-line testing. Whole genome sequencing of one of the two clusters of parasites will be funded through the Early Career Award.

Parr is also the recipient of a Burroughs Wellcome Fund and American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Postdoctoral Fellowship in Tropical Infectious Diseases. He will receive $65,000 each year for two years to investigate the gene mutation that allows this parasite to avoid rapid test detection in the Kinshasa Province of the DRC.

“The DRC has one of the highest percentages of people living with malaria in Africa,” Parr says. “We found a surprisingly high number of children with false-negative rapid testing results due to this deletion mutation. These two awards will allow us to investigate whether these parasites have learned how to avoid detection or if the mutations are occurring randomly.”

Parr chose UNC to complete his infectious diseases fellowship specifically to work with malaria researchers Jonathan Juliano, MD, MSPH, Associate Professor of Medicine, and Steven Meshnick, MD, PhD, Professor of Epidemiology, in the Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Ecology Lab or IDEEL@UNC.

“Rapid diagnostic tests have become the standard method for malaria diagnosis in Africa – so Jon’s findings have profound implications for current malaria control efforts,” Meshnick says. “And, from an evolutionary biology perspective, they could lead to important new insights into parasite genetics.”

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