Rebecca Tweedell (PhD student, CMM)
My research interests are focused on the malaria liver stage, particularly in regards to the mechanism of P. falciparum invasion of the liver. Malaria infection begins with the bite of an infected mosquito that injects parasitic sporozoites into the skin. These sporozoites can make their way from the skin and into the circulation. From there, they migrate to the liver, where they cross the sinusoidal barrier to access the hepatocytes and establish the liver stage of infection. This stage is symptomatically silent but leads to the blood stage, when clinical disease begins. Understanding how the sporozoites enter the liver could open avenues of development for ways to prevent this entry.
During my undergraduate studies, I majored in microbiology and became very interested in host-pathogen interactions. My goal is to increase mechanistic understandings of how pathogens can use their host to their advantage. By learning to understand the pathogen’s pathways and strategies for invasion of host, we can begin to develop new treatment options for those affected. I am also deeply interested in global health and the development of strategies to combat global health concerns, like malaria. I am passionate about improving the quality of life for people on a broad scale.
As a PhD student in the Dinglasan lab, I have been primarily working on improving our in vitro model for sporozoite invasion of hepatocytes. Using a cell line that can be infected with P. falciparum sporozoites, HC-04, I have been optimizing conditions to closely mimic the conditions found in vivo to achieve higher infection efficiency (the currently published infection efficiency is 0.07% in the HC-04 cell line). I have also been working to understand the differences between the HC-04 cell line and another hepatocyte cell line, HepG2, which does not support infection with P. falciparum. We hope that by understanding the differences between these cell lines, we may be able to gain insights into the mechanism by which sporozoites infect hepatocytes. Improving our understanding of the mechanism may lead to new treatments and new avenues of investigation.