Alvaro Acosta Serrano Professor

Molecular Parasitology and Vector Biology
Alvaro Acosta Serrano

Research Interests:

Vector-borne diseases are among the world’s leading causes of death and morbidity. For example, more than a million people die each year from malaria and other neglected diseases like visceral leishmaniasis. Those who survive can suffer disabilities that cause lifelong misery, affecting productivity, quality of life, and socio-economic development. Furthermore, environmental and climactic changes, as well as war and civil unrest, can enhance the spread of a pathogen via vectors or hosts, consequently increasing the risk of disease introduction into non-endemic areas. This is evidenced by the spread of mosquito-transmitted viral infections, as well as tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease, all of which are quickly disseminating in both sub-tropical and tropical parts of the world.

During my scientific career, I have dedicated a substantial amount of time to study the structure, biosynthesis, and function of surface glycans from several kinetoplastid parasites, in particular African trypanosomes. By studying the role of trypanosome glycans during the parasite life cycle in the tsetse fly, I became fascinated by vector biology and completely switched fields in 2008. Thus, over the past twelve years, my main research interests have been dedicated to expanding our basic understanding of how parasites are able to colonize and migrate through (and become transmitted by) insect vectors. My projects involved, for instance, the discovery of novel genes and proteins –from either parasites or insects– that participate in these processes, as well as the role of the insect microbiome in conferring vectorial capacity. We have exploited this basic knowledge to developing new tools to stop the transmission of vector-borne diseases. Two examples of this are the discovery and characterization of putative candidates for a transmission-blocking vaccine against trypanosomiasis, and a new way to target exclusively bloodfeeding insects by blocking their amino acid metabolism. Furthermore, my group has also pioneered the study of salivary proteins and glycans from different insect vectors, which is essential to better understand blood feeding and pathogen transmission, discover novel disease exposure biomarkers and may improve efficacy of saliva-based vaccines.

In addition to our vector biology research, we also developed a program on the prevention and control of Old-World cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL) in the Middle East. These studies involved, among other aspects, the development of a new diagnostic assay based on the strong anti-a-galactosyl (anti-a-Gal) antibodies in CL patients and the implementation of a disease exposure (insect salivary) marker in endemic areas.


  • Professor, Department of Biological Science, University of Notre Dame IN. 2023-Present
  • Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Mass, Honorary Faculty – Module organiser and Lecturer. 2019-2022
  • Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, England, Reader in in Molecular Parasitology and Vector Biology. 2021-2023
  • Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, England, Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor). 2015-2021
  • Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, England, Lecturer (Assistant Professor). 2011-2015
  • Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, England, Senior Post-Doctoral Researcher. 2008-2010
  • University of Glasgow, Scotland, Wellcome Trust Career Development Research Fellow. 2003-2008
  • University of Dundee, Scotland, UK, Wellcome Trust Int'l Travelling Fellow with Prof. Michael A. Ferguson, FRS. 2000-2003
  • Johns Hopkins Medical School, Baltimore, U.S.A. Post-doctoral fellow with Prof. Paul T. Englund. 1996-2000
  • Central University of Venezuela, Caracas, Venezuela. Research Assistant with Prof. José Luis Avila. 1989-1991


  • Post-doctoral fellow in Biological Chemistry with Prof. Paul T. Englund., Johns Hopkins Medical School, Baltimore, U.S.A. 1996-2000
  • Visiting PhD student in Parasite Glycobiology with Prof. Sir Michael A. Ferguson, FRS.,  University of Dundee, Scotland, UK. 1995-1995
  • PhD in Molecular Parasitology with Prof. Sérgio Schenkman.,Federal University of São Paulo, Brazil. 1992-1996
  • Undergraduate student in Animal Physiology with Dr. Fabián Michelangeli., Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Investigations (IVIC), Caracas, Venezuela. 1988-1990
  • BSc in Education. Physiology Honours., Catholic University Andrés Bello, Caracas, Venezuela. 1982-1990

Selected Professional Activities:

  • Guest Editor, Parasitology – Special issue on "Parasite Glycobiology". 2019
  • Editorial Board Member, Experimental Parasitology. 2019- Current
  • Editorial Board Member, Molecular and Biochemical Parasitology. 2018-Current
  • Deputy Editor, PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. 2017-Current
  • Associate Editor, PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. 2014-2017
  • Co-editor of the book 'Trypanosomes — after the genome.' (Barry JD, Mottram J, McCulloch R and Acosta-Serrano A. eds.). Horizon Press. 2007
  • Ad hoc reviewer for general and specialized journals, including, e-Life, EMBO Journal, Eukaryotic Cell, Exp. Parasitol., Glycobiology, J. Infec. Dis., J. Insect Physiol., Nature Journals, PLoS Journals, Sci. Reports, and Trends Parasitology.

Recent Papers:

  • Iniguez E., Saha, S., Petrellis G., Menenses C., Herbert S., Gonzalez-Rangel Y., Rowland T., Aronson NE., Rose C.,Haines LR., Acosta-Serrano A., Serafim TD., Oliveira F., Srikantiah S., Bern C., Valenzuela JG., Kamhawi S. ‘A composite biomarker from Phlebotomus argentipes saliva provides an effective vector surveillance tool post-elimination of visceral leishmaniasis in India’. Submitted
  • Hegde S., Voronin D., Casas-Sanchez A., Saldaña M., Acosta-Serrano A., Popov VL., Chopra AK., Hughes GL. 'Gut-associated bacteria invade the midgut epithelium of Aedes aegypti and stimulate innate immunity and suppress Zika virus infection in cells'. Submitted (bioRxiv; 10.1101/866897).
  • Casas-Sánchez A., Ramaswamy R., Perally S., Haines LR., Rose C, Yunta C., Aguilera-Flores M., Lehane MJ., Almeida IC., Boulanger M., and Acosta-Serrano A. ‘The crystal structure and localization of Trypanosoma brucei invariant surface glycoproteins suggests a more permissive VSG coat in the tsetse-transmitted metacyclic stage. Submitted (bioRxiv, 10.1101/47773).
  • Dewar C, Casas-Sánchez A, Dieme C, Crouzols A, Haines LR, Acosta-Serrano A*, Rotureau B*, Schnaufer A*. (2022) ‘Oxidative phosphorylation is required for powering Trypanosoma brucei motility and development within the tsetse fly’. *Co-corresponding author. mBio, 13(1),
  • Casas-Sánchez A, Romero-Ramírez A, Hargreaves E, Ellis CC, Grajeda BI, Estevao I, Patterson EI, Hughes GL, Almeida IC, Zech T, Acosta-Serrano A. (2022) ‘Inhibition of protein N-glycosylation blocks SARS-CoV-2 infection’. mBio 13(2),
  • Kozak RP, Mondragon-Shem K, Williams C, Rose C, Perally S, Caljon G, Van Den Abbeele J, Wongtrakul-Kish K, Gardner R, Spencer D, Lehane MJ, Acosta-Serrano A. (2021) ‘Tsetse salivary glycoproteins are modified with paucimannosidic N-glycans, are recognised by C-type lectins and bind to trypanosomes’. PLoS Neg. Trop. Dis., 15(2):e0009071
  • Sterkel M., Haines LR, Casas-Sánchez, A., Adung’a VO., Vionette-Amaral RJ., Quek S., Rose C., Dos Santos MS., Escude NG., Ismael H., Paine MI., Barribeau SM., Wagstaff S., MacRae JI., Masiga D., Yakob L., Oliveira PL., and Acosta-Serrano A. (2021) 'Repurposing the orphan drug nitisinone to control the transmission of African trypanosomiasis'. PLoS Biology, 19 (1):e3000796. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000796. Issue cover; F1000 commentary.
  • Montoya AL, Austin V, Portillo S, Ashmus RA, da Silva IE, Jankuru SR, Al-Salem WS, Acosta-Serrano A*, Almeida IC*, Michael K* (2021) Discovery of the first biomarkers for Old World Cutaneous Leishmaniasis caused by Leishmania major. J. Am. Chem. Soc. Au 1(8): 1275-1287. *Co-corresponding authors.
  • Patterson EI, Prince T, Anderson ER, Casas-Sanchez A, Smith SL, Cansado-Utrilla C, Solomon T, Griffiths MJ, Acosta-Serrano Á, Turtle L, Hughes GL (2020). 'Methods of inactivation of SARS-CoV-2 for downstream biological assays'. J. Infec. Dis. 222(9): 1462-1467 doi: 10.1093/infdis/jiaa507.
  •  Mondragon-Shem K., Wongtrakul-Kish K., Kozak RP., Yan S, Wilson I., Paschinger K, Rogers ME, Spencer DIR., Acosta-Serrano A. (2020) 'Insights into the salivary N-glycome of Lutzomyia longipalpis, vector of visceral leishmaniasis'. Sci. Reports, 10:12903. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-69753-x.