background image
ow meet Mahalia Desruisseaux,
MD '00, associate professor
of medicine and pathology at Albert
Einstein College of Medicine. Dr.
Desruisseaux joined the Einstein facul-
ty in 2007, following a clinical fellow-
ship there, in which she studied infec-
tious diseases and developed her inter-
est in CM.
She has pursued that interest with
marked success, using a mouse model
to elucidate the pathogenesis of the dis-
ease. The Desruisseaux lab has focused
on inflammation of the endothelium--
the cells that line the inside of blood
vessels--triggered by infection with the
P. falciparum parasite. The lab hopes a
clear understanding of this process will
open the door to pathways in the ner-
vous system that may be targeted for
treatment of the neurological sequelae
of CM.
Dr. Desruisseaux's studies have led
to important discoveries. For example,
using the mouse model, her group was
the first to describe an increase in en-
dothelin, a peptide that causes con-
striction of blood vessels and can trig-
ger inflammation.
Investigating the phenotype--or
function--of proteins involved in CM,
the lab demonstrated abnormal regula-
tion of the tau protein, also thought
to be a culprit in the formation of
nerve tangles in neurodegenerative dis-
eases such as Alzheimer's disease. "We
demonstrated that when we could
interrupt the actions that cause abnor-
malities in this protein, we could pre-
vent mortality and neurological defi-
cits in CM-infected mice," says Dr.
A new partnership is helping to ad-
vance her research. Several years ago,
Tamiwe Tomoka, MD, a pathologist
from the University of Malawi College
of Medicine, visited Einstein. Dr.
Tomoka worked in Dr. Desruisseaux's
lab for two months, learning about the
pathophysiology of CM, using the
mouse model. They discussed the value
to the lab of research under way in
Malawi--a small nation in southeast-
ern Africa--and then, in 2015, under a
grant from the Global Health Center at
Einstein, Dr. Desruisseaux traveled to
Malawi to work with Dr. Tomoka and
other collaborators. A year later, the
center funded her return trip to
Malawi to continue the collaboration.
Compassionate Patient Care
atient care remains an important
part of Dr. Desruisseaux's work.
In addition to pursuing her research at
Einstein College of Medicine, she
works in the Infectious Disease Service
at Montefiore Medical Center's Weiler
Hospital. As a hospitalist in the admis-
sions unit, she helps handle the emer-
gency department overflow, care for
patients, and teach Infectious Disease
48 Robert WoodJohnson
Mahalia Desruisseaux, MD '00:
"A Rare Combination"
Researching Cerebral Malaria
eet Plasmodium falciparum. This one-celled
protozoan parasite is responsible for cerebral malaria (CM), a
devastating disease that takes the life of a young child every 30
seconds. Children who survive are likely to face long-term neu-
rocognitive problems, including epilepsy, learning disabilities,
and behavioral deficits.
B Y K A T E O ' N E I L L