Prof. dr. M. Yazdanbakhsh

Head Department of Parasitology and Leiden Immunoparasitology Group

Area(s) of interest

  • Human Immunology
  • Immune modulation
  • Population studies


Head Department of Parasitology
Head Leiden Immunoparasitology Group


Maria Yazdanbakhsh studied Medical Parasitology at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and thereafter did her PhD at Amsterdam University on Immunobiology of eosinophils, which in part was based on studying parasites. After a post-doctoral fellowship, studying molecular biology of parasitic helminths at Imperial College London, she started her own laboratory at the Department of Parasitology, in Leiden University.  She has spent sabbatical time at London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine taking short courses in epidemiology and statistics. After heading the Leiden Immunoparasitology Group, she became the head of the Department of Parasitology in 2015.

Maria Yazdanbakhsh is the president of Dutch Society for Parasitology. She has served in various national scientific committees including TOP/ZonMW, VICI, ALW and WOTRO.  At the LUMC she is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board, the management team of medical profile area Immunity, Infection and Tolerance as well as committee on internationalisation.  She has received the Leyton Science Research Award, Marie Curie fellowship in 1987, MSD Award in Human Parasitology in 1997 and will deliver the Leiden University Dies lecture in 2017.

Alongside regular curricular teaching, Maria Yazdanbakhsh has placed much emphasis into training biomedical and medical students not only from the Netherlands and Europe but also from developing countries. She has developed and coordinates the half minor/elective program for (bio)medical students at LUMC.

Diesoratie 2017 / Anniversary of Leiden University lecture 2017 was delivered by Maria Yazdanbakhsh entitled “From Parasitism to Mutualism”:

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Research interest

Through combining field studies in Africa/South East Asia with molecular immunological work in her laboratory in Leiden, Maria Yazdanbakhsh’s group has challenged the immunological basis of the Hygiene Hypothesis and introduced the concept that the regulatory network driven by chronic infections can play an important role to control inflammation underlying allergic disorders. Her seminal papers in the Lancet (Decreased atopy in children infected with Schistosoma haematobium: a role for parasite-induced interleukin-10 / Allergy, parasites and the hygiene hypothesis), showed that the negative association between helminth infections and allergies in Gabon is linked to regulatory cytokines. With increasing evidence of a beneficial effect of regulatory responses on insulin sensitivity, Maria Yazdanbakhsh has expanded her research to evaluate the role of helminths in the type 2 diabetes (T2D) epidemic in low to middle income countries (Helminth therapy or elimination: epidemiological, immunological, and clinical considerations / Helminth infections, type-2 immune response, and metabolic syndrome). From examining parasites and their products, the group has identified a number of parasite derived molecules with immune modulatory potential, which are being tested in animal models of asthma and T2D. These are new molecules that lead to exploitation of their chemical structure with the aim to define novel molecular entities capable of interacting with and modulating the immune system (Regulation of pathogenesis and immunity in helminth infections / Schistosome-derived omega-1 drives Th2 polarization by suppressing protein synthesis following internalization by the mannose receptor). The work in the laboratory has paved the way to randomised controlled trials in rural communities in Indonesia and Africa (Long-term treatment of intestinal helminths increases mite skin-test reactivity in Gabonese schoolchildren / Community deworming alleviates geohelminth-induced immune hyporesponsiveness). Through these well designed studies, some evidence has been produced for the ability of helminth infections to modulate the immune system and affect disease outcome. 

In more recent years she started analysing cellular immune responses to malaria parasites during coinfection with helminths and then moved to analysing samples from controlled human malaria infection using CyTOF to gain an in-depth understanding of the interaction between P. falciparum and its human host.


Publications can be found at Google Scholar and in Pubmed


Leiden University Medical Center
Building 1
Room P4-39

Albinusdreef 2
2333 ZA Leiden
Tel: +31 71 526 5067

Postalzone P4-Q
P.O. Box 9600
2300 RC Leiden
The Netherlands