Dr Julian C Rayner

Honorary Faculty (formerly Senior Group Leader at the Sanger Institute) and Director of Wellcome Connecting Science

My research seeks to understand the interactions between Plasmodium parasites and human cells, in order to identify and prioritise new drug and vaccine targets. I focus on the stage of the parasite life cycle that infects human red blood cells, as it is this stage that causes all the symptoms and pathology of malaria.

After undergraduate education in New Zealand and a PhD studying with Dr Hugh Pelham at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, I began working on malaria parasites as a post-doctoral fellow in 1998 at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, USA. This is where I became fascinated with how Plasmodium parasites recognise and invade human red blood cells, work that I continued in my first faculty appointment at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA, where I also carried out collaborative work with a colleague in the Peruvian Amazon.

After moving to the Sanger Institute in 2008, my group adapted high-throughput genetic and biochemical approaches to studying erythrocyte invasion and other host-parasite interactions. In recent years we worked with Gavin Wright to identify a protein complex that is essential for erythrocyte invasion and has clear vaccine potential, with Oliver Billker to develop scalable tools for the efficient genetic manipulation of Plasmodium parasites, and with Dr. Beatrice Hahn at the University of Pennsylvania to study the origin of human Plasmodium parasites in African apes.

I have a strong interest in learning and public engagement. I served as Director of Graduate Studies for the Sanger Institute between 2012 and 2014, and am still actively involved in graduate training. I regularly give talks to school and community groups, have helped develop web resources for malaria education, and have collaborated with artists and writers to engage a wide range of audiences in dialogue about science in general, and malaria in particular.

In 2014 I was appointed Director of Wellcome Connecting Science, which enables everyone to explore genomic science and its impact on research, health and society. We connect researchers, health professionals and the wider public, creating opportunities and spaces to explore genomic science and its impact on people. Connecting Science inspires new thinking, sparks conversation and supports learning by drawing on the ground-breaking research taking place on the Wellcome Genome Campus.

In 2019 I became Director of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, Cambridge and my research team moved across from the Sanger Institute to the CIMR in 2020.

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