HHMI Investigator Joseph DeRisi will deliver the next lecture in the Dialogues of Discovery series at Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia. DeRisi’s talk, “Unraveling Infectious Disease Mysteries Through Genomics,” is on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
DeRisi, who is at the University of California, San Francisco, helped pioneer the use of DNA microarray technology as a graduate student. He now uses that same approach to study the activity of the full range of malaria genes and has already generated provocative insights. Malaria and emerging viral diseases, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and avian flu, represent serious threats to world health. Efforts to control malaria—which kills some 2.5 million people a year, mostly children—have made only halting progress and drug resistance is now emerging as a grave problem.
DeRisi's analysis of gene expression in Plasmodium falciparum, which causes the most deadly form of human malaria, has revealed that an unusually high percentage of genes are expressed in a highly periodic fashion during the parasite's life cycle—many only once and in a specific order—as it invades and destroys red blood cells. This finding reveals a vulnerable point in the malaria parasite's life cycle, a weak spot where drugs and vaccines could be especially effective. Over the past several years, DeRisi, together with his longtime collaborator Kip Guy, has been screening new anti-malarial compounds and identifying their targets. At least one of these compounds has now been approved as a preclinical candidate, which is a key step toward testing in humans.
In a separate area of research, DeRisi and HHMI alumni investigator Don Ganem pioneered the use of both microarray and next generation sequencing technologies for the purpose of identifying novel pathogens in both veterinary and human samples. DeRisi has worked on a wide variety of species, ranging from honeybees, rabbits, parrots, polar bears, and even boa constrictors and pythons. Most recently, DeRisi and his former postdoc Charles Chiu deployed next generation sequencing to aid in the diagnosis of a critically ill teenager.
Recent Dialogues of Discovery speakers have included John P. Donohue from the Institute of Brain Science at Brown University; Janelia laboratory head Ulrike Heberlein; Jeremy Nathans, HHMI investigator at Johns Hopkins University; Cori Bargmann, HHMI investigator at Rockefeller University; Jennifer Tour Chayes, Managing Director at Microsoft Research; Sean Eddy, Eric Betzig, and Karel Svoboda, laboratory heads at Janelia; Sir Paul Nurse, President of The Royal Society; Roger Perlmutter, President of Merck Research Laboratories; and Leslie Vosshall, HHMI investigator at Rockefeller University.