Drexel’s Dr. Lawrence Bergman to Present Malaria Research

By Zachary Gotthardt
SC Staff Writer

Tomorrow, October 31, the second installment of this semester’s Biocolloquium Series will take place at 4:00 PM in Kurtz Lecture Hall in the Moore Biology Building. Dr. Lawrence W. Bergman of Drexel University College of Medicine will present his work on malaria treatment.

Malaria is a deadly mosquito-borne disease. In 2010, there were an estimated 219 million cases worldwide, 660,000 of which were fatal. Of these cases, 91 percent were in Africa, where the pathogen can flourish.

The disease has been a public health concern for generations.

Over time, however, people of the region have evolved sickle-cell anemia, which, to a degree, combats the ill effects of malaria.

It is caused by parasites of the genus Plasmodium, of which there are over 100 species.

The most serious and deadly species are P. falciparum and P. vivax.

Dr. Bergman seeks to stop these pathogens with drugs specifically manufactured to target their unique structure.

Bergman is a professor in the Microbiology and Immunology Department at Drexel University, focusing his research almost exclusively on the worldwide malaria epidemic.

He considers the disease the most common and deadly parasitic disease in the world. His research has discovered that it is more problematic now than it was during the mid-twentieth century.

Experts predict upwards of a 20 percent annual increase of cases within Africa alone. This increase is due in part to climate change creating a more suitable habitat for mosquitoes and increasing their resistance to drugs.

The Plasmodium parasite has a complicated life cycle, involving humans, mice, and mosquitoes.

Advances in genomics have led to the complete gene sequencing of their genetic code. Bergman hopes to utilize this information to create more effective treatments.

The pathogen itself utilizes a unique invasion pathway involving many proteins as it infects human cells. Dr. Bergman and his team have carefully examined this pathway for susceptible proteins to target with drugs.

His lab also examines gene expression in rodent malaria pathogens as another method for stopping the disease.

They have been able to identify several of the proteins in the pathway and determine their function. Once the structure of the protein is discerned, creating molecules to interact with it becomes significantly easier.

To meet this end, Bergman and his team were awarded a $2 million NIH grant in 2012. His research is part of a worldwide campaign to synthesize new anti-malarial drugs.

His team has also received $1 million in support from Medicines for Malaria Venture, based out of Geneva, Switzerland.

Dr. Bergman will give his presentation at 4:00 PM in Kurtz Lecture Hall in the Moore Biology Building tomorrow, October 31.

Refreshments will be provided. Following the talk, Dr. Bergman will be available to answer questions on a more individual basis.

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