The overarching theme of the teams of this unit is “Vector-borne diseases caused by human protozoan pathogens”. All teams are internationally recognized scientists and leaders in their corresponding fields and have developed original approaches, skills and techniques that create an ensemble that is unique in France. The topics of research are very complementary covering three major human protozoan pathogens:
- team 1 SCHERF, Artur (DRCE, CNRS and Prof. Institut Pasteur) human malaria,
- team 2 BASTIN, Philippe (DR INSERM), Trypanosomiasis and
- team 3 SPAETH, Gerald (Director of research, Institut Pasteur) Leishmaniasis.
The teams follow scientific strategies to i) exploit epigenetic drug screens to target multidrug resistant parasites and ii) exploit new aspects of host parasite interactions using experimental model systems including humanized mice, iii) sophisticated live imaging in particular for flagellum biology and iv) new factors that are key to transmission of the diseases. The existing synergy between team members has produced considerably more results than the sum of the 3 teams put together.
Economic and societal impact
The research topics are fully in line with the ‘INSERM Plan Stratégique 2020’. The teams work on three major human pathogens that represent a huge health burden in human and domestic animals. In addition, the biology of flagellum/cilia of Trypanosomes is highly relevant for many human diseases that are linked to defects in cilia and represents a model organism to study genetic defects linked to human disease. The Spaeth and Scherf teams devote significant resources to identify new targets for drug development, some are based on epigenetic factors. Given the emergence of drug resistance in clinical isolates (Leishmania and P. falciparum), developing compounds that kill multidrug resistant parasites is now a key priority in the unit. Recently, the Scherf team has identified compounds (collaboration with P. Arimondo, IP Paris) that target DNA methylation and kill multidrug resistant P. falciparum parasites (including artemisinin) from Cambodia very efficiently. In addition, the Scherf team has produced an improved humanized mouse model that opens avenues to study new aspects of human malaria parasites including P. vivax biology in vivo.
Attractiveness of the unit
The PIs excel as co-organizers of prestigious conferences such as Gordon Research Conferences, USA and Woods Hole conferences, USA and many other international and national meetings including EMBO conferences. In addition, the fact that two ERC advanced grants have been awarded to the unit, add significantly to the international visibility. Individual members of the unit have obtained many awards the last five years (7 awards from various organizations such as the French Academy of Science, FRM, Fondation de France, etc.). All PIs have been successful in obtaining ANR national or international grants the last five years (7 in total) and are members of two national LabEx consortia (one on parasitology). This creates an international visibility of the INSERM unit that attracts regularly excellent students and postdocs, many obtain prestigious international fellowships (EMBO, HFSP, Marie Curie, etc.) to join the different teams.