Professor, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and MIID
BS Honors - Biology (Genetics)
Postgraduate training - Infectious Diseases
Postgraduate training - Medical Microbiology
MDSC 611, Medical Microbiology, Lecturer, "Eukaryotic Pathogens - Drug Treatment and Resistance"
VetMed 690, Integrated Parasitology, Lecturer, “Malaria I & II
Dr. Pillai is a Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Medicine, and Microbiology, Immunology & Infectious Diseases at the University of Calgary, and practices in both Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. His research interests comprise (i) translational studies related to improving cost-effectiveness and outcomes from the implementation of new diagnostic algorithms; (ii) developing point-of-care and near-patient diagnostic technology for application in resource-limited settings like Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka as well as remote settings in Canada and (iii) understanding the pathogenesis of infectious diseases using genomic and proteomic approaches. He has published close to 100 peer-reviewed articles, obtained over $3.0M in direct peer-reviewed funding over the last 10 years. He has trained over 30 undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral scientists as well as clinical fellows in his laboratory.
Pillai DR, Labbe AC, Vanisaveth V, Hongvangthong B, Phompida S, Boutha N, Zhong K, Kain KC. Plasmodium falciparum malaria in Lao PDR: Chloroquine treatment outcome and predictive value of molecular markers. J Infect Dis. 183(5):789-95, 2001.
This study was the first clinical efficacy trial on antimalarial resistance conducted in Laos in the modern era. Prior to the study, chloroquine was used as first line therapy. However, our results showed 46% treatment failure with this drug prompting that country to change its treatment policy. We were also one of the first groups to evaluate the role of molecular markers in predicting chloroquine treatment outcome in a field study. My role was central to the planning, coordination, execution, and completion of the project together with Laotian counterparts. This line of inquiry has set the stage for studies I conduct today, some 20 years later.
- Shahinas D, Liang M, Datti A, Pillai DR. A repurposing strategy identifies novel synergistic inhibitors of Plasmodium falciparum heat shock protein 90. J Med Chem. 2010 May 13;53(9):3552-7
- In this novel approach which repurposes old drugs, we used robotic platforms to screen large libraries of chemical compounds (approximately 4000) and identified three novel antimalarial compounds that target heat shock protein 90. One of the compounds, called Harmine, has been shown to synergize with artemisinin and maybe a useful partner drug. Studies with harmine led to further peer-reviewed funding, other major peer-reviewed publications, and new collaborations.
- Ménard D, Khim N, Beghain J, Adegnika AA, Shafiul-Alam M, Amodu O, Rahim-Awab G, Barnadas C, Berry A, Boum Y, Bustos MD, Cao J, Chen JH, Collet L, Cui L, Thakur GD, Dieye A, Djallé D, Dorkenoo MA, Eboumbou-Moukoko CE, Espino FE, Fandeur T, Ferreira-da-Cruz MF, Fola AA, Fuehrer HP, Hassan AM, Herrera S, Hongvanthong B, Houzé S, Ibrahim ML, Jahirul-Karim M, Jiang L, Kano S, Ali-Khan W, Khanthavong M, Kremsner PG, Lacerda M, Leang R, Leelawong M, Li M, Lin K, Mazarati JB, Ménard S, Morlais I, Muhindo-Mavoko H, Musset L, Na-Bangchang K, Nambozi M, Niaré K, Noedl H, Ouédraogo JB, Pillai DR et al KARMA consortium. A Worldwide Map of Plasmodium falciparum K13-Propeller Polymorphism. New Eng J Med, 2016 Jun 23;374(25):2453-64.
- Our contribution to this consortium (“KARMA”) led by the Pasteur Institute was critical. Our work initially showed that artemisinin resistance had not spread west to Bangladesh from Cambodia. Strains from our study were used as part of this consortium to show the global distribution of artemisinin resistance. We ultimately demonstrate in this work published in the New England Journal of Medicine that artemisinin resistance had not spread to Africa which would be considered a public health disaster. Ongoing work with our collaborators in Ethiopia is establishing whether artemisinin resistance could occur in Africa also.
- Genetu Bayih A, Debnath A, Mitre E, Huston CD, Laleu B, Leroy D, Blasco B, Campo B, Wells TNC, Willis PA, Sjö P, Van Voorhis WC, Pillai DR. Susceptibility Testing of Medically Important Parasites. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2017 Jul;30(3):647-669.
During my sabbatical in 2015, I wrote this review and was successful in assembling the world’s leading experts on drug discovery related to neglected tropical diseases. The review will set the benchmark on methods to test drug susceptibility and identify limitations which need to be overcome in order to identify novel compounds for treatment.
- Girma S, Cheaveau J, Mohon AN, Marasinghe D, Legese R, Balasingam N, Abera A, Feleke SM, Golassa L, Pillai DR. Prevalence and Epidemiological Characteristics of Asymptomatic Malaria Based on Ultrasensitive Diagnostics: A Cross-sectional Study. Clin Infect Dis. 2019 Aug 30;69(6):1003-1010.
- A very important diagnostic study showing point of care DNA based malaria tests called LAMP radically alter our perceptions about the prevalence of malaria and its impact on patients. This in turn has implications for treatment and public health interventions.