Sarah Reece wins 2011 Nexxus Young Life Scientist of the Year

Dr Sarah Reece, an expert in evolutionary theory whose work uncovers the tricks that parasites use to remain a step ahead of medical science, was named on 3 November as the 2011 Nexxus Young Life Scientist of the Year (East).

Sarah’s work at the rapidly moving interface of infection and evolution known as “Evolutionary Medicine” has been published in leading journals on evolutionary biology and parasitology, as well as those highlighting multidisciplinary science. Sarah is a graduate of both Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities and is currently a Reader within the Institutes of Evolutionary Biology & Immunology and Infection Research at the University of Edinburgh.

Her research is focussed particularly on malaria parasites and her interest in this area began when she realised that they have far more sophisticated behaviours than previously thought. Her research has revealed that malaria parasites are able to recognise their relatives and adopt survival strategies when threatened by competing parasites or anti-malarial drugs. Her hope is that by establishing how parasites maximise their success, she can identify weaknesses in their strategies that could be exploited to help make medicines “evolution-proof”.

Accepting the Award on 3 November 2011, Sarah said, “I’m delighted to receive this recognition for the work of my research group who work at the interface of evolutionary theory and disease biology. Communicating the importance of cross-disciplinary research is challenging so I’m extremely pleased that this award will highlight the value of an evolutionary perspective for studying diseases.”

Malaria is responsible for over one million deaths per year, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, and over 500,000 cases per year. Currently, almost half the world’s population are at risk. Malaria used to be even more widespread than it is today, famously in the Fens in England, and it may also have affected people in Scotland.

Graeme Boyle, Director of Nexxus, the networking organisation for Scotland’s life scientists said, “Scotland has a rich history of parasitology research spanning the work of the early explorer-scientist Dr David Livingstone to that carried out today by researchers within our Universities, Research Institutes and companies. Sarah’s dedication to the subject with her focus on the evolutionary aspect, is not only revealing important new opportunities to counteract the seeming resistance of parasites to much of the medication available currently, but also helping to further advance Scotland’s already high reputation in this area.”
 
For more information on the Nexxus website, click here.

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