Prof. Niles obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at MIT before pursing an M.D./PhD through the HST program between Harvard and MIT, working in Prof. Steve Tannenbaum’s lab. Niles then conducted his postdoctoral work in the Department of Chemistry at UC Berkeley in Prof. Michael Marletta’s group. Niles returned to MIT in 2007 to join the Department of Biological Engineering where his research group consists of Biological Engineers, Chemists, and Microbiologists focused on developing novel biomolecular tools to better enable the study of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.
The goal of the Niles lab is to establish, through technological innovations, new avenues to discovering fundamental malaria parasite biology that can be translated into much-needed diagnostic, preventative and therapeutic solutions.
The lab’s long-term goal is to create a diverse and easy-to-use molecular toolkit for robustly controlling gene expression and protein function, thereby enabling the efficient elucidation of parasite gene function. The lab emphasizes constructing tools that are multi-purpose and broadly applicable across different organisms, including model systems and especially less genetically tractable pathogens. In some instances, the lab tailors existing technologies to make them compatible with unique aspects of our target organism biology. Alternatively, the lab uses basic principles gleaned from nature to design and systematically develop novel strategies for achieving gene regulation.
The Niles lab is also interested in quantitatively understanding the extent to which the parasite balances de novo heme biosynthesis with scavenging, as heme metabolism plays an important role in parasite biology. The lab is developing novel heme biosensors and using mass spectrometric and biochemical approaches to gain quantitative and dynamic information on how heme from different sources is utilized.
Finally, the lab is interested in better understanding the pathophysiology of severe malarial disease. Specifically, it seeks further insight into how organ-specific distribution and burden of parasites interact to influence the likelihood of a severe malaria outcome, and whether dysfunction of a specific organ system correlates with these parameters. To address these questions, the lab is developing molecular probes to facilitate dynamic and quantitative molecular imaging of genetically unmodified parasites in the native host. Simultaneously, the lab is also interested in developing these reagents as diagnostic tools and potential therapeutics.