SFU Canada Research Chairs Seminar Series: "Vectors and Parasites: What Can We Learn from Insects to Treat Human Diseases?"

Thursday, January 27, 2011
11:30 - 12:30

Dr. Carl Lowenberger
Canada Research Chair in Parasitology and Vectors of Disease Entomology, Department of Biology


Insect vectors transmit parasites and pathogens that cause significant human morbidity and mortality. Most insects recognize and eliminate these parasites using components of their innate immune system. Why then do all insects not eliminate their parasites? Understanding the molecules involved in recognizing parasites, activating the correct pathways, communication between cells and tissues, and producing effector molecules that eliminate parasites is a rapidly developing, multidisciplinary area of research. The response of any vector depends in part on the location and movement of the parasite in the host: vectors respond differently to nematodes that move through their body cavity than towards intracellular viruses. A major impetus in our field has been the advent of large scale sequencing of genomes and transcriptomes. We have available several field collected vector strains that are resistant or susceptible to specific parasites. We take advantage of gene silencing and transgenic approaches to evaluate the role of specific genes in determining whether an insect will kill or transmit a parasite. This talk will focus on our current understanding of insect innate immunity, the development and use of tools to evaluate responses to different parasites, the effector molecules used to kill parasites, and how we might exploit these molecules to develop novel drugs to treat human infections.

About the Speaker

Carl Lowenberger has combined his interests in Entomology (U. of Guelph), Medical Entomology (Simon Fraser University) and Parasitology (McGill) to develop a research program around insects that transmit parasites to humans. He moved to the University of Wisconsin-Madison initially as a post doctoral Fellow and then as a Faculty member. In 2002 he was appointed to the Department of Biological Sciences as a CRC in Parasites and Vectors of Disease. He is a Scholar of the Michel Smith Foundation for Health Research and is an Associate Member of the Centre for Forensic Research (Criminology) and the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at SFU. Dr. Lowenberger collaborates extensively with researchers in areas where malaria, Dengue and Chagas diseases are endemic, and leads a team of researchers that uses multi-disciplinary approaches to identify targets and weak links in the vector-parasite interface we might exploit to reduce disease transmission or to develop new drugs to treat disease.