Professor David Fidock

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Professor David Fidock’s major achievements in the life sciences have been the discovery of how the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparumacquired resistance to the first-line antimalarial drugs chloroquine and artemisinin. The discovery of pfcrt as the determinant of chloroquine resistance, reported in Molecular Cell in 2000 and Science in 2002, yielded a rapid DNA typing method that revealed the global extent of resistance and shifted the worldwide malaria treatment and control strategy away from chloroquine.

Similarly, he recently reported (Science, 2015) that emerging resistance to the current first-line antimalarial drug artemisinin is a result of mutations in the K13 protein that regulates how parasites develop inside infected red blood cells and enter a dormant state to withstand drug action. This provides a molecular marker to now identify where resistance has spread and alter treatment policy accordingly (New England Journal of Medicine, 2016).

The importance of this finding is underscored by the fact that malaria continues to kill over 400,000 individuals each year, mostly young children in Africa, and malaria control and treatment is vitally dependent on effective drug treatment.

Dr. Fidock also developed the field of genome editing in malaria parasites, in collaboration with the biotechnology sector. This makes it possible to rapidly modify or introduce any gene into the P. falciparum genome for genetically controlled experiments into resistance, drug mode of action and mechanisms of disease (Nature Methods 2006 and 2012). Using this method, he proved the mode of action of multiple antimalarial agents now in human clinical trials (Science 2011, Nature 2013 and 2015), led by collaborators at Novartis and other pharmaceutical companies. This effort, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Medicines for Malaria Venture, is yielding new medicines to combat drug-resistant malaria (Science Translational Medicine, 2015).

Finally, he is exploiting vulnerabilities in how Plasmodium parasites acquire lipids from infected hosts as an approach to developing genetically attenuated malaria parasites that elicit protective immune responses in the infected liver, before parasites enter the symptomatic blood stages of infection (Cell Host & Microbe, 2008 and 2015). Through these efforts, David has been an Australian leader and innovator in the globally coordinated effort to reduce the impact of malaria and ultimately eliminate this devastating infectious disease.

Dr. Fidock completed his Bachelor of Mathematical Sciences degree with Honours at Adelaide University, majoring in genetics, computer sciences and mathematics, and then pursued human and veterinary vaccine development at Biotech Australia in Sydney. He completed his PhD in Microbiology at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, winning the prestigious Emilie Roux Fellowship and receiving early tenure there as a research scientist. After pursuing sabbatical research at the University of California Irvine and the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, he left Pasteur to join the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York as an Assistant Professor. Since 2008 he has been at the Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan, where he is a tenured Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and of Medical Sciences. He is also the Director of the Columbia University Graduate Program in Microbiology, Immunology and Infection. He receives funding of $2 million a year for his research program on malaria, and has published over 150 research articles, including in all the top life science journals. His work has been cited over 11,000 times. In 2014 he was awarded the Bailey K Ashford Medal from the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, where he is now a Councilor, for distinguished work in the field of tropical medicine. 

Advance caught up with David when he was nominated for the 2016 Advance Global Australian Awards and he was also profiled by Australia Unlimited.

Check out footage from the 2016 Advance Global Australian Awards where David won the Award for Life Sciences.