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Research award puts focus on future malaria prevention

University of Gothenburg

The Faculty of Science at the University of Gothenburg has presented the recipient of their third annual Faculty of Science Research Award. The winner of the SEK 250,000 prize is a chemist whose research may eventually help prevent the spread of malaria.

Professor Richard Neutze, 40, earned his doctorate in physics in his home country of New Zealand. Following postdoctoral positions in the UK and Germany, he moved to Sweden in 1997. In 2006, he became a professor at the Department of Chemistry, University of Gothenburg, where he currently directs a successful research team in the Lundberg Laboratory.

The town walls of the cell

The team studies how proteins transport substances across cell membranes. 'All cells are surrounded by membranes, and the membranes contain proteins that are responsible for transports across the membrane and communication with the outside environment. You can liken this to a medieval town with a heavily guarded city wall. For the town to function, it needs to be able to transport water, rubbish, energy and information through the wall,' says Neutze.

Preventing malaria

'To learn how this structure works, we are exploring the chemistry behind how the proteins carry out their different tasks.' Neutze's research may lead to new ways of preventing the spread of malaria. 'Some of the substances transported through the cells are sugar alcohols. These are important for the ability of the malaria parasite to reproduce inside the human body. A little simplified, our research may one day make it possible to shut down the transport of sugar alcohols in the malaria parasite by taking a pill, and this would greatly slow down the spread of the disease.'

Spray against brain damage

Another application concerns human brain damage. The research may enable emergency medical personnel to one day treat brain damage with a simple spray bottle. 'If we can block a cell's water transport, we can keep it from swelling when damaged. Experiments on mice show that this reduces the risk of brain damage, which otherwise occurs when the brain swells and presses against the skull.'

Internationally renowned

Neutze and his team have had several articles on their findings published in top scientific journals. He also cooperates with researchers from other disciplines, both locally and internationally, and has in only three years established an internationally renowned and very attractive research environment in Gothenburg. One motivation for the award is Neutze's ability to support young researchers in their career development - several young members of Neutze's team have been recruited to some quite prestigious research positions.

Strengthen profile

'I'm of course very happy, especially for my great co-workers since the award will strengthen our profile even further, both inside and outside the University of Gothenburg.' The SEK 250,000 will be spent on further research.

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