Deborah Smith
Professor of Molecular Parasitology



Deborah Smith is Professor of Molecular Parasitology and Head of the Department of Biology, and also a member of the Centre for Immunology and Infection. Training originally as a biochemist at the University of Southampton (BSc, PhD), Deborah developed research interests in molecular biology in general, and regulation of gene expression in particular, during post-doctoral fellowships working on frogs and flies at MRC Mill Hill, NIH (Bethesda) and Imperial College. Deborah was appointed to a lectureship in the Department of Biochemistry, Imperial College in 1984 and developed her independent research career - and research interests in parasitology - in that institution, being appointed Professor of Molecular Parasitology in 1999. After serving as Deputy Head of the Biochemistry Department (2000-2001) and Deputy Chair of the Graduate School of Life Sciences and Medicine (2000-2004), Deborah moved to the University of York in late 2004 to help establish the Immunology and Infection Unit (IIU). While at York, she has chaired the Infections and Immunity Board of the MRC and been a member of the MRC Strategy Board (2007-2010). Deborah has participated in international review boards for Genome Canada, the Institute Pasteur Paris, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Copenhagen Research Forum. Deborah was awarded the OBE for Services to Biomedical Sciences in 2010, and is currently co-Chair of the Wellcome Trust Interview Panel.


  • University of Southampton
    BSc in Biochemistry
    PhD in Biochemistry 
  • Mill Hill
  • National Institutes of Health (Bethesda)
  • Imperial College
    Lecturer (1984)
    Professor of Molecular Parasitology (1999)
    Deputy Head of the Biochemistry Department (2000-2001)
    Deputy Chair of the Graduate School of Life Sciences and Medicine (2000-2004)
  • University of York
    Centre for Immunology and Infection
    Professor of Molecular Parasitology (2004 - )
  • University of York
    Department of Biology
    Director of Graduate Studies (2008 - 2010)
    Head of Department (2010 - )




  • Leishmania
  • Trypanosoma brucei
  • Surface antigens
  • Protein trafficking and secretion
  • N-myristoylation
  • Macrophages

Deborah's laboratory works on kinetoplastid parasites that cause human disease in tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. The principal focus is on Leishmania species, causative agents of human leishmaniasis, while Trypanosoma brucei, causative agent of African sleeping sickness, provides a model extracellular pathogen for genetic, cellular and biochemical studies. Using a range of experimental approaches (embracing bioinformatics, molecular and cell biology, biochemistry, structural biology and immunology), this research aims to understand how parasites invade and adapt to their hosts and to use this information in the development of new therapeutics for the diseases that they cause.


Parasite transgenesis, confocal microscopy, proteomics, microarray analysis, comparative genomics


  • Functional analyses of proteins from infective-stage Leishmania and bloodstream trypanosomes
    Proteins only expressed in mammalian-infective and/or vector-transmitted parasites are excellent targets for probing host- and vector-parasite interactions. Focusing on both parasite-specific and well-conserved proteins has revealed novel intracellular interactions and pathways, together with structural features that induce host immune responses via defined antigen presentation pathways and induction of specific effector molecules.
  • Functional Genomics of Leishmania species
    Infections with different Leishmania species give rise to a spectrum of disease in man as a result of both parasite and host factors. Comparative genomic analyses have identified a restricted number of parasite species-specific genes that may influence disease outcome. The functions of these genes are under investigation, using methods that include determining expression levels of each gene product during the parasite life cycle, localising each protein within the parasite, making transgenic parasites that are null for or over-expressing each target gene and testing these organisms for infectivity and host immune response in cultured macrophages and infection models.
  • Drug development for protozoan parasitic infections
    Development of new drugs against neglected parasitic infections is an international research priority. More than 60 parasite proteins, some essential for parasite viability, are modified by the enzyme N-myristoyl transferase (NMT). Following genetic validation of NMT as an essential enzyme for the survival of both Leishmania and Trypanosoma brucei, this protein is now the target of a drug development programme for both the leishmaniasis and African sleeping sickness (in collaboration the Dundee Drug Discovery Unit, Imperial College and Pfizer). Preliminary studies suggest that this approach may also be useful in developing a new antimalarial drug.
  • Therapeutic vaccines for visceral leishmaniasis
    In collaboration with Paul Kaye and Charles Lacey, we are contributing antigen expertise to on-going studies that aim to develop a therapeutic vaccine for visceral leishmaniasis via (re-) activation of CD8+ Tcell responses. With funding from a Wellcome Trust Translation Award, these studies are progressing through their final pre-clinical stages, with the aim of conducting a first-in-man trial in UK volunteers in 2013.

Research group(s)

  • Smith research group 


  • Wellcome Trust Biomedical Resource Grant 099198 
    C.Hertz-Fowler (PI, Liverpool), M. Berriman (WTSI), M. Carrington (Cambridge), D.F. Smith (York), J. Mottram (Glasgow), D. Roos (Univ Penn), M. Barrett (Glasgow)"Integrated bioinformatics resources for kinetoplastid pathogens" 01/09/12 - 31/08/15
  • Wellcome Trust Project Grant
    Co-PI with Wilkinson (YSBL, York) and Leatherbarrow/Tate (Imperial College London), “N-myristoyl transferase as a drug target for visceral and cutaneous leishmaniasis” 01/01/10 – 31/06/13
  • Wellcome Trust Programme Grant
    Co-PI, with Mottram and Kaye, "Functional Genomics of Leishmania infantum" 01/06/05 - 31/03/11
  • Wellcome Trust Programme Grant
    PI, "Modification, trafficking and secretion of Leishmania infective stage proteins" 01/10/05 - 30/12/10
  • Wellcome Trust Resources Grant
    Co-PI with Carrington [Cambridge], Roos [Univ. of Pennsylvania] and Berriman [Sanger Institute], "Kinetoplastid bioinformatics" 01/10/08 -30/03/12
  • Wellcome Trust Translational Award
    Collaborator with Kaye (PI) and Lacey, "Therapeutic CD8+ T cell-biased vaccines for human visceral leishmaniasis'"01/10/08 - 31/12/11
  • Wolfson Foundation
    With Kaye (PI) and Lacey, 'Development of the Wolfson Laboratories in the Centre for Immunology and Infection' 27/06/08

Contact details

Prof. Deborah Smith, OBE
Professor of Molecular Parasitology
Centre for Immunology and Infection
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: 01904 323492/2007