Parasitic Diseases Research Unit – PDRU

The Parasitic Diseases Research Unit of the Department of Parasitology was formerly known as the Malaria Research Unit (MRU) (1988-2016). With the Department of Parasitology giving wider attention to all parasitic diseases of public health importance, the name change took place in 2016.

Number of research projects are carried out at the Parasitic Diseases Research Unit (PDRU) contributing to the research and development activities in Sri Lanka. The PDRU also provides diagnostic services for various parasitic diseases.

The permanent staff members attached to the Department of Parasitology actively involve in the activities of the PDRU. In addition there are research assistants who are carrying out various research projects at the PDRU.


Head’s message

“Welcome to the Parasitic Diseases Research Unit (PDRU) of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo. PDRU started its journey as Malaria research Unit (MRU) in 1988 under the leadership of Professor Kamini Mendis who is a globally renowned pioneering researcher in the field of malaria. Along with the successful elimination of malaria in Sri Lanka MRU was later on converted to PDRU with a view to cater to the growing needs in the broad fields in parasitology. Research work of the PDRU is currently supported by researchers and academics of the department of Parasitology, Faculty of Medicine, Colombo and a large number of local and international collaborators.

At present, PDRU focuses on research and training in a number of parasitic diseases that are of national and global significance. Leishmaniasis, which is a recently established growing health issue in the island, filariasis, helminthiases, entomology and zoonotic infections are to name a few. In addition, PDRU contributes to the essential surveillance based research activities that are going on at a national scale for malaria in Sri Lanka. In addition MRU/PDRU has immensely contributed to many successful stories in the field of parasitology in Sri Lanka. Elimination of malaria, helminthaises, filariasis are few of these achievements in which our past and present academic staff members have contributed as pioneers.

Leishmaniasis in Sri Lanka presents a unique scientific problem and a growing health issue to the country. PDRU and department of Parasitology has pioneered many key research projects and provided diagnosis and training support in many diseases in the country. Though Sri Lanka is declared a malaria free nation in 2016, the PDRU is carrying out research on malaria to support Sri Lanka’s prevention of re-introduction phase of malaria . Similarly, research on filariasis is also being carried out by this unit.

Many post graduate level research, training and diagnostic activities are carried out in the PDRU. This unit continues to serve many young scientists, local and international medical and other professionals, para medics while strengthening its scientific collaborations with many international institutions.

We are thankful to all our researchers, trainers, supporters and well-wishers who have contributed to the development of this unit in numerous ways.”

Thirty six Ph.D.s and 6 M.Phil.s have been produced through PDRU.

This book would be of interest to persons who are working in the health sector, patients with leishmaniasis and the general public who wish to know the basics about leishmaniasis – by Dr. N.H. Silva

Grants awarded

  1. Grant received – University of New South Wales, Australia – To Prof. Deepika Fernando

New projects started in 2020 – ongoing research

  1. Screening high risk groups to prevent reintroduction of Malaria to Sri Lanka – PI Prof. Deepika Fernando
  2. Individuals identified as high risk will be screened for malaria using microscopy, Carestart RDT, a magneto-optical detector and PCR – PI Prof Deepika Fernando
  3. A sero-epidemiological study to provide supportive evidence to establish malaria elimination in Sri Lanka – PI Prof Deepika Fernando
  4. Novel and innovative strategies to control Anopheles stephensi and other malaria  vectors for prevention of re-introduction of malaria in Sri Lanka – PI Prof. Deepika Fernando
  5. Dengue infection in a cohort of Sri Lankan patients- Development of diagnostic and risk prediction models for use in clinical setting – PI Prof Deepika Fernando
  6. Toxoplasmosis and schizophrenia: Is there an association among Sri Lankan patients? A preliminary case-control study.  – PI Prof S. Gunawardena
  7. Characterization of antigens of medically important intestinal nematode eggs – PI Prof. S. Gunawardena
  8. A Multi-center, Double-blind, Randomized, 24-month study, to Compare the Efficacy of Doxycycline [once daily x 6 weeks] versus Placebo in improving Filarial Lymphedema (independent of active filarial infection).  – PI Prof S. Gunawardena
  9. To gain better insights in to the occurrence and the spread of leishmaniasis in Sri Lanka and Bhutan using biological, epidemiological and molecular tools – PI Prof N. Karunaweera –NIH – TMRC Project

Publications in 2023

  1. H, Samaranayake N, Karunaweera ND (2023) Cytokine and phenotypic cell profiles in human cutaneous leishmaniasis caused by Leishmania donovani. PLoS ONE 18(1): e0270722. pone.0270722
  2. Riyal H, Ferreira TR, Paun A, Ghosh K, Samaranayake N, Sacks DL, Karunaweera ND. First evidence of experimental genetic hybridization between cutaneous and visceral strains of Leishmania donovani within its natural vector Phlebotomus argentipes. Acta Trop. 2023 Sep;245:106979
  3. Jude. J, Gunathilaka. N, Wijerathna. T, Fernando. D , Wickremasinghe. R, Abeyewickreme. W. (2023). Distribution and seasonal variation of malaria vectors in the Mannar and Jaffna Districts; an entomological investigation during the phase of prevention of re-establishment of malaria in Sri Lanka. International Journal of Tropical Insect Science. Submitted for publication
  4. Maduranga. S, Valencia. B. M , Sigera. C , Adikari. T , Weeratunga. P , Fernando. D, Rajapakse S, Bull A.L.R, Rodrigo C (2023). Genomic surveillance of recent dengue outbreaks in Colombo. Viruses
  5. Marandi R.Z, Leung. P, Sigera .C, Murray D.D, Weeratunga P, Fernando. D, Rodrigo. C, Rajapakse. S, Macpherson. C.R (2023). Development of a machine learning model for early prediction of plasma leakage in suspected dengue patients. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
  6. Jude. J, Gunathilaka. N, Udayanga. L, Fernando. D, Premarathne. P,  R. Wickremasinghe, Abeyewickreme . W(2023). Comparative analysis of larvicidal activity of temephos (EC50) and novaluaron (EC10) to control Anopheles stephensi in Sri Lanka. Parasitology International, 92:102686. doi: 10.1016/j.parint.2022.102686.
  7. Seneviratne. S, Fernando. D, Chulasiri. P, Gunasekera. K, Thenuwara. N, Aluthweera. C, Wijesundara. A, Fernandopulle. R, Mendis. K, Wickremasinghe. R (2023). A malaria death due to an imported Plasmodium falciparum infection in Sri Lanka during the prevention of re-establishment phase of malaria. Malaria Journal. 22: 243.
  8. Gunathilake T, Rajapaksha G, Gunatilake H, Senanayake S, Dayawansa R, Gunawardena S. (2023). External ophthalmomyiasis by larvae of Oestrus ovis (sheep nasal botfly): Second case report from Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan Journal of Infectious Diseases 13(1): E34 1-5.

Ph.Ds/ M. Phils awarded 2021

1. R.L Dewasurendra, Ph. D. (Studies on relapses and strain-specific protective immunity to Plasmodium cynomolgi infection in toque Defining host responses and parasite genetics in the context of malaria elimination in Sri Lanka)

Supervisors – Prof. N. Karunaweera, Prof. S. Gunawardena

2. M.A.B Deepachandi, Ph. D. (Study of antigen profile and immuno-epidemiology of human leishmaniasis in Sri Lanka)

Supervisors – Dr. H.V.Y.D Siriwardana, Prof. P. Soysa