NIH Press Release
National Institute of Allergy and
Infectious Diseases

Friday, April 9, 1999

Ellen O'Donnell,
(301) 402-1663

Dr. Louis Miller, Malaria Researcher, Receives 1999 Common Wealth Award

Louis H. Miller, M.D., chief of the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), has been selected for the prestigious 1999 Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service for outstanding achievement in the field of science and invention. Dr. Miller will receive the award at a ceremony on April 10 in Wilmington, Del.

Dr. Miller is being honored for his contributions to research on malaria, the most widespread of tropical diseases, and to its control and treatment. Malaria kills up to 3 million people annually, most of them children in Africa, and debilitates the hundreds of millions more who become ill with the disease. The hardest-hit countries also suffer serious economic loss.

"This recognition of Dr. Miller's contributions is richly deserved. He is at the forefront of researchers advancing our understanding of malaria at the molecular level, and is a tireless advocate for applying that knowledge to benefit affected regions of the world," comments Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of NIAID. "His research provides hope that we may eventually control this devastating disease."

Malaria is caused by a parasite transmitted to humans by the Anopheles mosquito. During his career, Dr. Miller has made important discoveries about the tools malaria parasites use to infect and survive in humans and mosquitoes. Of particular significance, he identified a molecule on red blood cells that allows the malaria parasite to invade them and proliferate in the bloodstream. Dr. Miller and his research team identified a parasite molecule that binds to the red blood cell. Further, they identified molecules that malaria-infected red blood cells use to stick to blood vessel walls to avoid passing through the spleen where they would be destroyed. These molecules are now being tested for possible development into a malaria vaccine.

Dr. Miller is also interested in, and has done some research on, how genetic engineering could be used to neutralize mosquitoes that act as carriers of malaria in regions where it is endemic. He and other scientists believe that a gene could someday be introduced into mosquito populations to make them resistant to malaria parasites, thus stopping the life cycle of the parasite and the spread of the disease.

The most critical malaria-related challenge at this time, Dr. Miller says, is "the development of resistance to the cheap and effective medicines, chloroquine and fansidar, that are used at the local village level. There are limited resources in Africa to buy the more expensive anti-malaria drugs, so when the cheaper drugs no longer work, it's a real problem, and there aren't many other choices in the pipeline. The reality is that there is a lack of economic incentive for industry to develop new drugs and vaccines, although that is what these countries need."

A graduate of Haverford College, Columbia University and the medical school at Washington University, Dr. Miller began working on malaria in 1965 when he was assigned to Bangkok, Thailand, with the U.S. Army Medical Corps. In 1971, he came to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to head the malaria section of the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases.

Dr. Miller is a previous recipient of many other prestigious awards and honors, including the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Infectious Disease Research; election to the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine; and the Paul Ehrlich-Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize.

The four other recipients of the 1999 Common Wealth Awards are John Irving, novelist; Robert MacNeil, journalist and author; Lawrence Eagleburger, former secretary of state and diplomat; and Julie Taymor, theater director. The awards were established as a legacy of the late Ralph Hayes, a prominent business executive with lifetime commitment to public service.

NIAID is a component of the NIH. NIAID conducts and supports research to prevent, diagnose and treat illnesses such as HIV disease and other sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, malaria, asthma and allergies. NIH is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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