Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted to humans through the bites of infected mosquitoes. According to the World Malaria Report 2011, there were about 216 million cases of malaria causing an estimated 655,000 deaths in 2010. Tiffert and Lew established their malaria laboratory in Cambridge in 1999 to investigate the most deadly form of the parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. Becoming increasingly resistant to available drugs, this species in particular is a growing public health concern.
Their current focus is a mysterious step in the life cycle of P. falciparum occurring inside the infected human’s bloodstream. The parasites, at this stage called merozoites, attach to and enter red blood cells (RBCs) to develop and multiply. After two days, the new merozoites are released and infect neighbouring RBCs. Over several days, this process amplifies the number of parasitised RBCs and causes severe and potentially lethal symptoms in humans.