Defeating Malaria through Biology and Online Education

Portrait of Deepali Ravel

I'd always been very frustrated by health inequities that I saw in our community and communities internationally. I also…became very interested in biology and experimentation and discovered that biology could be a very important tool for solving global health problems. 

— Deepali Ravel, PhD ’17, course developer for "MalariaX: Defeating Malaria from the Genes to the Globe"

Sometimes inquiry at the microscopic level can lead to solutions on a global scale. That's the inspiration driving the work of Deepali Ravel, a doctoral student in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and content developer for the HarvardX online course MalariaX: Defeating Malaria from the Genes to the Globe.

Combining her love of biology with her deep commitment to public health, Ravel studies the malaria parasite. More specifically, she focuses on the stages of the malaria parasite that live in the human blood.

“I study how the parasite remodels red blood cells during the course of infection,” explains Ravel. “Essentially, the parasite has to change the surface of the red blood cell and the stiffness of the red blood cell in order to bind to the walls of different blood vessels. And in that way, it's able to hide in the immune system and other pressures for the body. And so I've studied a family of proteins that we hypothesize are essential in allowing that remodeling to occur. And so we think that without these proteins, the parasite wouldn't be able to survive in the host, and wouldn't be able to be picked up by mosquitoes.”

Ravel hopes that a better understanding of how these proteins work could lead to a new class of drugs or interventions that would help eradicate malaria, a disease that causes more than 400 thousand deaths and affects over 2 million people each year.

But Ravel’s work on malaria doesn’t remain in the lab. Recognizing that eradicating malaria requires a combination of approaches — science and technology, as well as political, economic, and social — Ravel looks for ways to bridge her research and make a difference in the real world.

Her most recent endeavor has been developing content for MalariaX: Defeating Malaria from the Genes to the Globe, an online course that explores cutting-edge science and technology along with policies needed to control and eliminate malaria.

Ravel is particularly excited by the global reach of the course format — as a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), the course content is open to all, allowing learners worldwide to acquire a toolbox of knowledge and leadership skills to develop evidence-based intervention strategies to eradicate malaria. Enrollment is already at 1,600 and continues to grow.

You can hear more about Deepali Ravel’s research in this video and podcast.

To learn more about the course and enroll, visit MalariaX: Defeating Malaria from the Genes to the Globe.

MalariaX Course Tile