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Ilaria Russo, PhD

Dr, Visiting associate professor

Personal profile


Born in Palermo on the 29th of January 1974, after a bright academic carrier she pursued a master degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Technology in 1998 with 110/110 cum laude, at University of Padua.

As eagle-scout she had the opportunity to do important extra-academic experiences volunteering in projects for homeless, immigrants and street teenagers. A crucial experience was in the summer of 1994, that was spent as volunteer in a mission in Tanzania. Here, she learned some basic of the local language, Kiswahili, and working at little hospitals in the Savannah (Ismani and Migoli regions) directly experienced the social devastation that neglected infection diseases cause on sub-Saharian countries, (Malaria, TB, Leprosy, Filariasis, intestinal infections and HIV). As she recovered from malaria and returned in Italy, she matured a strong motivation to devote her research on infectious diseases.

For one and half more years she worked on anticoagulants (same topic of her graduation thesis) under the direction of prof. A Fontana at University of Padua. A collaboration gave her the opportunity to visit one of the top five universities for MDs in USA, the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Here, she worked with prof. E. Di Cera, a master of enzymology, learning high standard approach of doing research. Then following her desire to do research on infectious diseases, she accepted the job offered by Chiron Vaccine Research Centre (now Novartis) in Siena.

Under the direction of Dr. R. Rappuoli and Dr. A. Covacci, she worked for three years on a novel project, oriented to target discovery for new antimicrobials. Within the period spent at Chiron she had also the opportunity to start her PhD course on a joined collaborative project with the University of Padua under the mentorship of prof. C. Montecucco. During these years she worked mostly on Helicobacter pylori and Streptococcus pneumonia but also had experience on Staphylococcus aureus, Neisseria meningitides accomplishing Chiron’s objective for target discovery, her PhD project on Helicobacter virulence factors as well as the setup of Streptococcus pneumonia vaccine project.

Completed her PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology and Pathology, she moved to USA seeking both the best formative offer for a post-doctoral training and her personal interest for studying malaria. The choice fell on prof. Daniel E. Goldberg, that conducts one of the malaria milestone laboratories at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Here, she specialized in the study of Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest strain causing malaria and one of the most difficult to approach for significant technical issues. She faced challenging projects on two previously uncharacterized enzymes, Calpain and PlasmepsinV, disclosing their functions and publishing on them as first author in important international journals (PNAS, Molecular Microbiology and Nature).

During her post-doc she developed thoroughly her abilities to conduct independent research, to direct a group of people, to establish and fulfill external collaborations and to set new genetic and biochemical tools. Therefore, she matured the decision to move to UK in order to accomplish the next step of her carrier: the establishment of her own laboratory on malaria

Research interests

The apicomplexan parasites of the genus Plasmodium are the causative agents of malaria, one of the major killers among infectious diseases. Although the malaria burden remains significantly high taking “the life of a child every minute”, morbidity and mortality have greatly diminished in numerous countries following implementation of disease prevention strategies and combination-drug treatments (WHO-Malaria Report-2013). However, the malaria situation is compromised by weak surveillance and decreasing availability of funding, which may ultimately lead to a rebound in infection incidence. Furthermore, since resistance is evident for all available anti-malarials, new approaches to control malaria are urgently needed. Thus, my laboratory focuses research projects to respond the call for new validated molecular malaria targets, one of the priorities identified under the Global Action Malaria plan, on the following topics:

1) Molecular Studies on Protein secretion, an indispensable process through which Plasmodium remodels and hijacks host cells to support its survival and growth.

2) Innovative cellular assays focusing on cellular events related to the asexual parasite cell cycle in order to perform fragment-based chemogenomics analysis  and identify gene functions via our novel random mutagenesis

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Education/Academic qualification

Infectious Diseases Scholar - Training for interdisciplinary approaches and translational research conjugating clinical practice (patient based), clinical research and basic research in the field of infectious diseases, Department of Internal Medicine, Washington University

Award Date: 31 Jul 2006

Doctor of Philosophy, Cellular and Molecular Biology and Pathology at the Department of Biomedical Sciences, Universita Degli Studi di Padova

Oct 2002Sept 2004

Award Date: 25 Apr 2005

Habilitation, Qualified Pharmacist, Universita Degli Studi di Padova

Award Date: 31 May 1998

Master of Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Technology - Laurea Magistrale equivalent to BPharm & MPharm, Department of Biomedical Sciences and CRIBI Biotech Center, University of Padua

Sept 1992Mar 1998

Award Date: 23 Mar 1998

External positions

visiting Associate professor, Washington University in St Louis

Jul 2017 → …

Areas of expertise

  • QD Chemistry
  • Drug discovery
  • QR180 Immunology

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Manchester Cancer Research Centre


  • Malaria, infectious diseases, molecular microbiology, enzymology, protein chemist


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    Ilaria Russo (Peer reviewer of publications)

    2015 → …

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workPublication peer-reviewResearch