Life Sciences, 2010

Chetan Chitnis

Principal Investigator, Malaria Research Group, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi

The Infosys Prize 2010 for Life Sciences is awarded to Chetan E. Chitnis for his pioneering work in understanding the interactions of the malarial parasite and its host, leading to the development of a viable malaria vaccine.

Interview

Infographic: Winning the battle against malaria

Bio

Dr. Chetan E. Chitnis completed his Master of Science degree in Physics at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, and Master of Arts in Physics from Rice University, Houston and Ph.D. in Biophysics from University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Chitnis was Visiting Fellow at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda and joined the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), New Delhi, as a Staff Research Scientist, where he is currently a Principal Investigator with the Malaria Research Group.

He is a Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, and winner of the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award in Medical Sciences. He was an International Research Scholar of Howard Hughes Medical Institute, USA and a Senior Research Fellow of the Wellcome Trust, UK.

Scope and impact of work

Dr. Chetan E. Chitnis' work is focused on understanding the molecular basis of host-parasite interactions that are involved in the invasion of red blood cells by malaria parasites. Plasmodium vivax and the related model simian malaria parasite, Plasmodium knowlesi are completely dependent on the interaction with the Duffy blood group antigen for invasion of human erythrocytes. The other important human malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum uses multiple receptors including glycophorins are receptors for invasion of red cells. Dr. Chitnis has used a variety of modern approaches to study the function of red cell binding proteins from malaria parasites and has done some very elegant structure-function studies to analyze their interactions with host receptors providing crucial insights into these critical host-parasite interactions and helping build the rationale for a vaccine based on these parasite proteins.

He established a pilot recombinant protein production facility at International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) that has been used to develop methods to produce recombinant protein-based malaria vaccines. Pre-clinical studies in a pilot facility have demonstrated that the recombinant antigen elicits high titer binding inhibitory antibodies that recognize and inhibit binding of diverse variants. The first P. falciparum malaria vaccine candidate, JAIVAC-1, developed at ICGEB has been tested in a Phase I safety trial. Clinical trials with the first P. vivax malaria vaccine candidate developed by Dr. Chitnis will soon be initiated.

His work provides an excellent example of how cutting-edge basic research that improves our understanding of biological processes underlying pathogenic mechanisms in an infectious disease can be combined effectively with translational research to develop urgently needed interventions. The scientific community has expressed optimism that his efforts to develop malaria vaccines will succeed and provide immense health benefits by protecting millions living in endemic regions against malaria.

Citation By The Infosys Prize Life Sciences Jury

Each year, there are nearly 100 million cases of Plasmodium vivax malaria worldwide. Dr. Chetan E. Chitnis is credited for the identification of the erythrocyte binding protein on malarial parasite that binds to the Duffy protein on the host blood cell. Dr. Chitnis’ work helped in narrowing the region of association and development of antibodies to prevent this association and infection. Based on this work, clinical trials on the vaccines to eradicate the malarial parasite are underway and offer hope of the first viable malarial vaccine.