“You have got to admire the malaria parasite, says Dr Danielle Stanisic. “It’s just so clever.”
Danielle has dedicated herself to researching a vaccine against the disease and she is the first to admit she is up against a wily foe.
“It can evade the immune system, it can modify the host immune system so that it doesn’t target the parasite, it changes the immune cells, it can hide in the immune cells – it’s developed all these ways to get around the immune system so it can stay in the human body.”
It is not just the malaria parasite that has Danielle fascinated. She grew up around science – her father was a scientist who worked on snails – so her interest in science began at an early age. However, her passion took off when she attended the National Youth Science Forum, which included a tour of the John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra.
“We were interacting with laboratory heads who introduced us to the research they were doing and gave us some hands-on work,” Danielle says. “It was fantastic, and it made me start thinking about medical research as a career.”
While studying parasitology at the University of Queensland, she heard a guest speaker talk about malaria vaccines and decided that was her calling.
Danielle is now a fully-fledged malaria vaccine researcher, based at Griffith University. Her work has also taken her to malaria-afflicted areas of Papua New Guinea, which she describes as a career highlight.
“Unless you actually go to where you see people who have the disease that you’re working on, you don’t truly appreciate why you’re doing the work,” she says.
This story was first published in Australia’s Future, a publication promoting science, technology, engineering and maths careers. To read other stories, go to www.australiasfuture.com