Tania de Koning-Ward

Full Name: Dr Tania deKoning-Ward (Laboratory Head)
Position Title: Senior Lecturer in Microbiology & Immunology
Telephone: +61 3 522 72923
Email: tania.dekoning-ward@deakin.edu.au
Campus: Geelong at Waurn Ponds
tania de koning ward

Malaria biology and pathogenesis

Research overview

Malaria is one of the world's most devastating human health problems, with Plasmodium falciparum, the most lethal of the human malaria species, causing around one million deaths annually. Unfortunately there is no licenced malaria vaccine and resistance to currently available anti-malaria drugs is now very widespread. Thus, there is a desperate need to identify new intervention strategies to reduce the global malaria parasite burden.

The focus of our research is investigations into the virulence mechanisms of and development of immunity to malaria parasites, using a sophisticated range of molecular, biochemical and microscopy approaches. We utilise both human(P. falciparum) and rodent (P. berghei) malaria transgenesis systems to genetically modify malaria genes to dissect gene function or to introduce reporter genes to track parasite proteins within the infected red blood cell (RBC). The use of both transgenesis systems enables the characterisation of proteins in the clinically relevant human malaria parasite, which is predominantly cultured in blood cells in vitro,and the dissection of the functional significance and contribution of these proteins to pathogenesis and immunity using an in vivo mouse model of malaria infection. By understanding the key mechanisms by which parasites are able to survive within their host and cause disease, we aim to discover new drug and vaccine targets that can be used to prevent the large morbidity and mortality associated with malaria infections.


1. Understanding how malaria parasites remodel their host red blood cell (RBC)
Central to the pathogenesis of malaria parasites is their ability to export several hundred of their own proteins into the RBC. In a recent breakthrough we have identified the protein machinery that provides a common portal through which most of the exported proteins must pass. Since these exported proteins are crucial to parasite virulence and viability, this protein machinery represents an outstanding target for malaria chemotherapeutic intervention. Our work is now aimed at characterising the various components of this machinery so that the mechanistic details of how proteins are trafficked from the parasite and into the RBC can be unravelled.



Extracted from de Koning-Ward et al, Nature, 2009:459:945-9.

2. Characterisation of malaria exported proteins

In addition to understanding the trafficking pathways that are used by the malaria parasite to export its proteins into its host cells, we are also characterising different classes of proteins exported by malaria to delineate their role in host cell remodelling and pathogenesis.


3. To functionally characterise novel parasite proteins that enable the malaria parasite
to invade and subsequently make the RBC their new home
These studies aim to develop these proteins into vaccines.


4. To dissect the contribution of key malaria proteins to pathogenesis and immune evasion
We use reverse genetics to modify malaria parasites in combination with post-genomic approaches to identify and validate new drug and vaccine targets.

Current Lab members

tania de koning ward labWe are now recruiting Honours and PhD students.

Please email expressions of interest to Dr. Tania de Koning-Ward taniad@deakin.edu.au



The consistent theme of Dr de Koning-Ward's research has been to investigate virulence mechanisms of, and immunity to human and animal model pathogens, using molecular genetics as a primary tool. Dr de Koning-Ward has developed experience in both rodent and human malaria transgenesis systems during postdoctoral stints at Leiden University (The Netherlands) and The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, the latter commencing with an NHMRC Howard Florey Centenary Fellowship. Following these postdoctoral positions, Dr de Koning-Ward was appointed as Senior Lecturer within Deakin University's Medical School, a combined research and teaching position, with the latter involving the coordination of the Infection, Defence and Repair Unit for 1st year medical students. Since 2011 she has relinquished this teaching component to take up an NHMRC fellowship to expand her independent research program at Deakin University. She was recently awarded the Commonwealth Health Minister's Prize for Excellence in Health and Medical Research.

View Dr de Koning-Ward's publications


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