Malaria caused some 435,000 deaths worldwide in 2017. Biochemist Celia Garcia, of the University of São Paulo in Brazil, is seeking to better understand the cell cycles of the Plasmodium parasites that cause the disease.

What is the focus of your work?

Increasing our knowledge of the signalling pathways that control Plasmodium cells is crucial to the discovery of new antimalarial drugs. If we understand how the biology of the parasite works, we can work out how to break it. In our laboratory, we have identified a number of cellular mechanisms, such as how the parasites can sense the hormone melatonin in their hosts, and how this drives their development. Working with synthetic and natural chemists, we’re doing high-throughput screening to find molecules structurally related to melatonin that can disrupt or kill the parasite.

What’s the state of Brazilian cell biology?

We are strong in topics related to health and diseases, including those caused by parasites and viruses. But the ups and downs of federal funding can undermine the long-term investment in science, technology and innovation that is important for the future of our country. We have bureaucratic systems that can mean it can take two months to obtain reagents, which has a damaging impact on our speed of discovery.

What should be done to strengthen cell biology in Brazil?

We should expand our efforts to collaborate internationally, especially in educating the next generation of scientists. At the University of São Paulo, we have approximately 100 joint-PhD programmes with overseas universities. It’s important that we increase these collaborations to promote excellence. Students from across the world like to come to Brazil, especially from other Latin American countries. We need to encourage further brain circulation, both outgoing and incoming.