Malaria parasites
Malaria parasites

ERC Synergy grant for research on dormant malaria parasites

Richard Bartfai (Radboud University), Bert Windhorst (Amsterdam UMC) and Clemens Kocken (BPRC) have received a Synergy Grant (of 11 million euros) from the European Research Council (ERC) for exploration of hypnozoites, malaria-causing parasites that can enter a dormant state in the liver. The team wants to gain understanding of the interplay between hypnozoites and their host, to ultimately enable the development of new drugs against malaria.

Understanding hypnozoites is crucial in the fight against malaria, as their ability to stay hidden and then reemerge poses a significant challenge to both treatment and eradication of malaria. However, due to their inaccessible location in either human or monkey livers, uncovering the mechanisms underlying hypnozoite dormancy and reactivation has been an unresolvable challenge for scientists ever since the discovery of hypnozoites in the 1980’s.

Tracking parasites

With the grant, the researchers will use advanced imaging techniques and a unique primate model for hypnozoites to track these parasites in the liver. They will take image-guided biopsies and these biopsies will be subjected to comprehensive molecular analysis, to study the interplay between the parasite and its host environment. 

The team: ‘Only by visualizing and following parasites inside the liver of the host can we understand their true, inner biology. Furthermore, from the molecular analysis we will learn which molecular processes in the parasite as well as in the host are key for the dormancy of hypnozoites.’


The role of the host in triggering hypnozoites to awaken from dormancy is still not understood. Factors such as the host’s physiological conditions, environmental changes and the specific cellular environment of the liver could play significant roles in this process. 

The team: ‘Our ultimate goal is to gain a more profound understanding of the intricate interplay between the parasites and the host. Knowledge of the trigger for hypnozoite reactivation would be instrumental in developing more effective strategies for combating and ultimately eradicating malaria.’

Contact information

For further information, please contact one of the researchers involved or team Science communication via +31 24 361 6000 or media [at] (media[at]ru[dot]nl).   

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