Dr Chris Tonkin

2010 Tall Poppy of the Year – Molecular Parasitology/Malaria Biology
The Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

If you asked an Australian what they believe is the leading cause of disease worldwide the answer will likely be cancer, diabetes or heart disease. Yet every year, blind to our eyes, 600 million people contract malaria, 2 million of whom die as a result. Malaria is the biggest killer of children under 5 years of age and the most deadly parasitic infection. It is the constant burden of malaria, mostly in tropical and subtropical regions, that keeps many nations in the poverty cycle. With no vaccine available and with widespread drug resistance, finding new therapeutic treatments for malaria is of paramount importance.

Dr Tonkins’ research focuses on how the Malaria parasite invades red blood cells. He has demonstrated key steps in the parasite’s ability to activate host cell entry and has identified a group of protein kinases that are essential for parasite viability. These protein kinases represent excellent drug targets and he aims to exploit these molecules to design new anti-malarials.

Eight of his scientific images are published on the front covers of international journals and are a testament to his ability to visually engage the research community. Chris also enthusiastically participates in the communication of the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute’s research to the general public by leading Institute Discovery Tours, aimed at engaging the wider community with current research efforts.