Shiroma M. Handunnetti obtained her first degree, BSc (Hons) (Zoology Special) from the University of Kelaniya in 1982. In 1983, she joined the Malaria Research Unit (MRU), Department of Parasitology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo as a research assistant and obtained her PhD degree in Parasite Immunology in 1987. Dr Handunnetti obtained 3 year post-doctoral training at the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, Department of Molecular Biology, DNAX Research Institute, Palo Alto, California, USA. Dr Handunnetti re-joined the MRU, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo as a Research Officer 1991 and in 1987, was promoted to Senior Research Officer. From 1988 onwards she functioned as the research Director of the MRU and and carried out administrative functions of three MRU laboratories (i) in Colombo, (ii) the clinical research unit established at the General Hospital, Anuradhapura and (iii) the Field Malaria Research station at Mailagama, Kataragama. Dr Handunnetti was a model researcher for the research capacity strengthening funded by Tropical Research Training (TDR) of the World Health Organization.
During her tenure at the MRU, she was instrumental in reconstruction of the field research laboratory and Bachelor’s quarters of the Field Malaria Research station at Mailagama, Kataragama for continuation applied malaria research as well as the upgrading of animal facility at Faculty of medicine for continuation of pre-clinical malaria vaccine trials. From 2003-2004, Dr Handunnetti worked as a visiting Researcher at the Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science, University of Colombo. In 2005, Dr Handunnetti joined the Institute of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IBMBB), University of Colombo as a Senior Lecturer in Immunology. In 2014 she obtained her merit promotion as Professor in Immunology and continue to serve in this capacity to date. Prof Handunnetti served as the Director, IBMBB from 2015-2018 and is currently serving as the Director, IBMBB since August 2018.
Prof Handunnetti has served in various other honorary positions during her tenure are University of Colombo and made numerous contributions in terms of national development and her research has been awarded with several institutional and national research awards. Some of which are,
- Recipient of National Science Foundation Research Award for 2016 as the Principal Investigator of Research Grant (Health Science)
- Recipient of Presidential Awards for Scientific Publications (nine years; 2005-2010; 2014-2016)
- Recipient of National Research Council Merit awards in 2012 & 2013
- Recipient of National Science Foundation – SUSRED Award for Supervision of PhD in 2014
- Recipient of University of Colombo – Research Award 2015 (IBMBB)
- National Science Foundation, Member of Biotechnology Committee since 2005 to date, contributed to the development of National Biotechnology Policy
- National Action Group, Roll-Back Malaria (RBM) Initiative of the World Health organization and several other agencies in partnership with the Anti- Malaria Campaign, Ministry of Health Services, Sri Lanka from 1999-2000 and contribution to the RBM policy & Island-wide Action Plan documents
Prof Handunnettti has made significant contributions to research in malaria and tropical diseases in the following aspects. I) identification of mechanisms of pathogenesis of malaria including the first description of resetting (cytoadherence) phenomenon, ii) identification of diagnostic markers in leptospirosis and dengue, iii) identification of resetting and cytoadherence receptors of malaria parasites, iv) demonstration of the use of natural host parasite systems for pre-clinical testing of malaria vaccines with Macaca sinica – toque money in Sri Lanka, v) identification of allergens of bee and wasp venom allergy, vi) Use of monoclonal antibodies in pathogen antigen characterization and disease diagnosis.
Professor Handunnetti has made numerous publications in international peer-reviewed journals and currently holds a h-index of 23. and i-10 index of 41. To date, Prof Handunnetti has dedicated more than 35 years to research and teaching at University of Colombo.