Leading Researcher Jane Carlton Joins Malaria Research Institute as Director
Jane Carlton, PhD, a biologist and leader in the field of comparative genomics, has joined the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute. She assumed the role on August 1.
Carlton’s research is focused on using genomics—the interdisciplinary study of an organism’s complete set of genes and DNA, or genome—to further understand the biology and evolution of malaria parasites and their mosquito vectors. The goal of her work is to find and improve ways to monitor and control malaria, as well as to identify ways to prevent and treat the mosquito-borne disease. She also focuses on several species of the Plasmodiumparasite that cause malaria, including Plasmodium vivax. As one of the most widespread malaria parasite species found outside of Africa, P. vivax has a dormant phase that makes detection and diagnosis particularly challenging.
Carlton comes to the Bloomberg School of Public Health from New York University, where she was the Julius Silver, Roslyn S. Silver, and Enid Silver Winslow Professor in the Department of Biology and the School of Public Health; faculty director of Genomic Sequencing at the Center for Genomics & Systems Biology; and the program director of a National Institutes of Health-funded International Center of Excellence for Malaria Research based in India. She is recognized for her collaborative efforts with researchers and clinicians working in global public health to transfer her research from the lab to the field.
Founded in May 2001 and continuously supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies with a total of $160 million in funding to date, the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute conducts discovery research at the Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore and field research at sites of endemic malaria in southern Zambia and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. The initial Bloomberg Philanthropies gift established a state-of-the-art research facility with the goals to treat and control malaria, develop a vaccine, and find new drug targets and innovative strategies to prevent and cure the deadly disease. The Institute has contributed to advances in all of these areas.
In the field, collaborations between the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute and Macha Research Trust in Zambia have contributed to the reduction of malaria cases in the region by more than 95 percent—revealing a realistic pathway to eliminate malaria from southern Zambia. From 1999 to 2003, the Macha Children's Hospital registered 300 malaria deaths of children under five. Since 2016, there has not been a single death. In contrast, malaria cases and deaths remain extremely high in northern Zambia, as well as in Central Africa, so more effective vaccines and other controls, treatments, and prevention methods are still urgently needed until the disease is finally eliminated.
Globally, malaria cases and deaths decreased significantly from 2000 to 2020, in part due to the development of improved drugs and developments in vector control, including insecticide-treated nets and indoor residual spraying. In 2021, the first malaria vaccine, 30 years in development, was recommended for use by the World Health Organization and is now being deployed in several African countries.
Malaria remains one of the deadliest diseases in the world, with 247 million cases worldwide that killed more than 619,000 people in 2021, mostly children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization. Many who survive suffer life-changing consequences, including neurological defects, and the economies of malaria-endemic countries suffer detrimental effects as well.
As director, Carlton leads the Institute’s research that includes immunology and vaccine development, entomology, parasitology, and epidemiology, while developing genomics and systems biology approaches to the study of malaria. She also guides the Institute’s research training and public outreach focused on the threat malaria plays to global public health.
“Our goal to prevent and reduce malaria is more urgent than ever, and we welcome the experience and vision that Dr. Carlton brings to her new role,” says Bloomberg School Dean Ellen MacKenzie, PhD, ScM. “She takes the helm ready to increase the Institute’s efforts in research and training. Her work as director will have a far-reaching impact in the fight against malaria in the face of critical challenges that range from drug and insecticide resistance to climate change.”
Carlton assumes leadership of the Institute from Peter Agre, MD, the Nobel Laureate who was the director for 15 years.
“Jane Carlton brings proven scientific leadership and fresh ideas to the Institute at a time when progress has been made with the first effective malaria vaccines,” says Agre. “Yet, when an estimated half million children each year die from malaria, more needs to be done. Jane will lead our dedicated researchers combating malaria from our labs in Baltimore and in the field in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere. As we have been recently reminded, even the United States is not beyond malaria outbreaks.”
“Malaria is a severe public health problem and a challenging scientific one. Efforts at malaria control and elimination require long-term commitment involving multiple interventions, strategies, innovations, and partners. We are excited that Jane Carlton will guide the Institute to identify new approaches to fight malaria,” says Arturo Casadevall, MD, PhD, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and the Alfred and Jill Sommer Professor and Chair of the Bloomberg School’s Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology.
“I am honored and excited to join the Bloomberg School of Public Health and lead the Malaria Research Institute’s efforts conducting impactful research and training on malaria parasites, the mosquitoes that carry them, and the disease they cause,” says Carlton. “By leveraging existing knowledge and resources at Johns Hopkins and bringing new genomic technologies and systems biology approaches to the Institute, our aim is to produce scientific advances that can lead to the development of new and improved control methods, with the ultimate goal being malaria elimination.”
Carlton has published more than 150 research articles and reviews in journals including Nature and Science. She has been elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has received awards for her studies of parasites and genomics from The Institute for Genomic Research and the American Society of Parasitologists.
Born and educated in Scotland, Carlton earned a PhD in Genetics from Edinburgh University in 1995. She moved to the U.S. and conducted research at the University of Florida, the NIH National Center for Biotechnology Information, and The Institute for Genomic Research, a nonprofit genome-sequencing center in Rockville, Maryland, before joining NYU in 2006.
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