Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

Category: CTEGD Blog

Trainee Spotlight: Grace Vick

Ph.D. student Grace Woods

My name is Grace Vick and I am a 4th year infectious diseases PhD candidate in Vasant Muralidharan’s lab. I’m originally from North Carolina and received my Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from Western Carolina University. After graduating undergraduate, I completed an internship at the Defense Forensic Science Center doing forensic biology research. After that, I spent 2 years as an ORISE Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studying and identifying genetic markers of multi-drug resistant strains of Neisseria gonorrhoeae. I came straight to UGA through the ILS program after my fellowship at CDC.

What made you want to study science?

Ever since I was little, I’ve always spent a lot of time being outside in nature and enjoyed figuring out the intricacies of how things work. During my undergraduate, I was able to explore the different areas of science and found the molecular biology of genetics to be an interesting field that is highly translatable and still vastly unknown. After I spent a few years gaining lab experience and an appreciation for the public health concerns of infectious diseases at the CDC, I knew I wanted to pursue a PhD in that field which brought me to UGA.

Why did you choose UGA?

My experience at the CDC offered the opportunity to learn about diseases and public health issues across all sectors and countries, which led me to learn more about parasitic diseases. Previously, I knew nothing about these diseases but as I learned more about their complex and fascinating life cycles and how these diseases of poverty impact people around the world, I was captivated by this research. Because I was really interested in spending my PhD studying infectious and parasitic diseases, I found out about the CTEGD at UGA and that is what brought me here. The CTEGD is a really wonderful environment for trainees to be exposed to exciting and diverse parasitology research, and I’ve really enjoyed my experience here.

What is your research focus and why did you choose it?

Our lab works on the deadliest form of malaria, Plasmodium falciparum. P. falciparum kills over half a million people each year, with the majority of those deaths being children under the age of 5. Our lab is interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms that are essential to asexual blood stage of this parasite. My work specifically focuses on determining the role of previously unknown proteins that we have discovered are essential for asexual stage invasion of merozoites into host red blood cells. Using a combination of genetic engineering, molecular, and cellular biology techniques, I aim to determine the molecular function of these proteins in the human asexual stage invasion of red blood cells.

Have you received any awards or honors?

In addition to receiving the NIH T32 Predoctoral Fellowship, I have been invited to present at multiple national and international conferences such as Molecular Parasitology Meeting in Massachusetts and Molecular Approaches in Malaria in Lorne, Australia where I won a poster award.

What are your career goals?

When I graduate with my doctoral degree, I hope to either join governmental research or the industry sector. If I decided to head into governmental work, I would choose a career at the CDC where I could continue working in the parasitology research field and apply current public health policies to the international parasitology field. If I decide to join the biomedical industry sector, I would want to work in Research and Design at a company that designs therapeutics and diagnostics for disease prevention and treatment.

What do you hope to do for your capstone experience?

I would really love to experience fieldwork in a malaria-endemic region. I think having the experience of meeting people and learning firsthand how this disease affects millions of people every day would be very eye-opening for me since I have only seen the lab side of malaria. The ability to experience fieldwork would give me a broader experience with how malaria is researched and treated outside of the lab environment and in rural lab environments. I would love to visit Africa or South East Asia to conduct fieldwork in a malaria-endemic environment.

What is your favorite thing about Athens?

Obviously, I love the food in Athens! I love going downtown to grab food and drinks on the weekend. Otherwise, I enjoy getting out and exploring the green spaces and parks that Athens has to offer such as Sandy Creek and the North Oconee Greenway with my husband and dog.

Any advice for a student interested in this field?

I would say the best advice is to read and soak up as much as you can about parasitology both before you get into the field and after. A lot of research has overlap between different parasites and it’s helpful to know about other parasitic diseases that might not be your main focus. Plus, parasites are fun! 🙂 My other advice in general for starting graduate school is to always reach out to students in labs you’re interested in joining. Students are pretty much always willing to help give clear insight into lab dynamics, mentorship of the PI, and generally how life working in that lab is. That information is all really helpful to know when choosing which lab to join!

 

Support trainees like Grace by giving today to the Center for Tropical & Emerging Global Diseases.

UGA geneticist gets to take risks with new seed grant

By Donna Huber

photo of Tania Rozario standing in front of a purple shrub.
Assistant Professor Tania Rozario has received a seed grant from the Hypothesis Fund to develop a new approach to advance tapeworm research, particularly on the little understood topic of regeneration.

Tania Rozario, assistant professor in the Department of Genetics and member of the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases, recently received a seed grant from the Hypothesis Fund to develop a new approach toward advancing tapeworm research. Her natural inquisitiveness and willingness to tackle tough questions has led to this moment.

As a child in Malaysia Rozario was fascinated with the world around her. Her interest was fostered by her grandfather who was an amateur botanist and science teacher. After reading about NASA in a kid’s science magazine, she wrote a letter to them. Their willingness to engage with her inspired her to see science as a real career choice.

“I was exposed to science at an early age,” said Rozario. “But what had the biggest impact on my decision to become a scientist was doing undergraduate research.”

By the time she enrolled in graduate school at the University of Virginia, she knew she wanted to study regeneration. She focused on developmental biology and embryology as she needed a strong foundation in these disciplines to pursue her future research. She returned to regeneration during her post-doctoral training in the Newmark laboratory at the Morgridge Institute for Research. It was then that she started her work in tapeworm regeneration.

“I was drawn to the untapped potential in tapeworms to understand basic biological functions,” she said. “Tapeworms have a complex lifecycle and are difficult to study in the lab – so there’s a challenge there too.”

The mechanisms of regeneration are poorly understood in tapeworms. Stem cells are responsible for regeneration. The Rozario lab wants to know what is special about the stem cells and signals in the “neck” as this tissue is the only tissue capable of regenerating new segments, despite the fact that there are stem cells everywhere in the tapeworm body.

micrograph of rate tapeworm
Rozario’s work is shedding light on tapeworm biology and the broader understanding of stem cells in other organisms. Here, a distribution of cycling stem cells (multicolored) is shown within the regeneration-competent tapeworm neck. (Photo courtesy of Tania Rozario)

“Tapeworms can grow very large, but regeneration only happens from a tiny part,” explained Rozario. “We want to know what genes are controlling it but right now we don’t have sufficient tools.”

With the gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas, researchers have been making remarkable strides in understanding genes in many organisms. However, there is no evidence that transgenesis, the process in which genes are inserted into an organism, works in tapeworms.

This is where the seed grant from the Hypothesis Fund comes in.

“They have scouts who are looking for unconventional science – research where although there may be risk or uncertainty that it will work, it could have a transformational effect if it does,” said Rozario.

The Hypothesis Fund provides seed grants for bold ideas at the earliest stage of research, often before any preliminary data have been generated.

“There are a number of barriers to getting CRISPR/Cas to work in an organism,” said Rozario in response to the risk of this project.

She lists three things that are needed to successfully use CRISPR/Cas: the right type of organism, access to an early development stage, and the expertise.

“We are in a good position to make this work,” further explained Rozario.

The Rozario lab has successfully developed a number of tools to better study the tapeworm in the lab. Since tapeworms produce both male and female gametes in every segment there is plenty of early development stage material to work with.

“Thanks to this gift, we are able to bring in post-doctoral researcher Olufemi Akinkuotu from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine,” said Rozario. “He has specific training in developing gene-editing tools in parasitic nematodes, which are distantly related to tapeworms but share many parallel challenges.”

While there is still a risk that CRISPR/Cas won’t work in tapeworms, if it does the payoff could be huge – not only for understanding the basic biology of tapeworms, but to further our understanding of stem cells in other organisms.

This story first appeared at https://research.uga.edu/news/uga-geneticist-gets-to-take-risks-with-new-seed-grant/

 

Two CTEGD faculty members receive Creative Research Awards

Jessica Kissinger and Dennis Kyle received the Lamar Dodd Creative Research Award during UGA’s Honors Week. The award recognizes established investigators whose overall scholarly body of work has had a major impact on the field of study and has established the investigator’s international reputation as a leader in the field.

Jessica Kissinger, Distinguished Research Professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences’ genetics department and former director of the UGA Institute of Bioinformatics, has focused her interdisciplinary career on the question of how parasites evolve. She has been a driving force behind the groundbreaking effort to create and maintain novel bioinformatics databases covering omics data for hundreds of dangerous pathogens. The Eukaryotic Pathogen, Vector, and Host Informatics Resources knowledgebase (VEuPathDB.org) is an integrated, centralized resource for data mining on more than 500 organisms. Databases searches are free, permitting researchers to gain insights into and test hypotheses that may pave the way for new approaches to treating or preventing diseases such as malaria and Cryptosporidium (a waterborne parasite). Kissinger has used the databases and other bioinformatics tools to make remarkable discoveries.

Dennis E. Kyle, professor of cellular biology and infectious diseases in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine, is one of the top parasitologists in the world. Kyle serves as director of the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases, and some of his most recent work focuses on discovery of new drugs that eliminate dormant vivax malaria that can linger in the liver. His group has discovered new drug series that target the dormant liver stages and is moving these novel therapeutics through preclinical studies. He also works on Naegleria fowleri, a rare but deadly parasite known as “brain-eating amoebae.” More than 97% of people infected with these amoebae die within two weeks. Kyle has conducted research into that pathogen, leading to effective repurposed drugs and the first rapid, sensitive diagnostic method.

 

First appeared in 2024 Research Awards

Two CTEGD trainees receive AHA fellowships

Photos of Graduate student Baihetiya “Barna” Baierna and postdoctoral fellow Mayara Bertolini
Graduate student Baihetiya “Barna” Baierna and postdoctoral fellow Mayara Bertolini received fellowships from the American Heart Association, supporting their research and education. Both are studying parasites in the University of Georgia’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases. (Photos courtesy of CTEGD)

 

Baihetiya “Barna” Baierna, a cellular biology graduate student in Silvia Moreno’s laboratory, received an American Heart Association Pre-doctoral Fellowship. It will fund her training for the next two years as she studies the mitochondrion of Toxoplasma gondii.

Baierna grew up wanting to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a scientist.

“My mom worked for the regional CDC in China and I was interested in science since a young age,” Baierna said.

After completing her undergraduate degree in biochemistry, she was sure she wanted to continue her training in graduate school. After being accepted into the Department of Cellular Biology program, she joined the Moreno Laboratory.

Toxoplasma gondii infects approximately one third of the world human population. The infection can cause serious complications in people with a suppressed immune system. Baierna’s research aims at validating novel T. gondii mitochondrial proteins as novel chemotherapeutic targets for improved chemotherapy of toxoplasmosis. This is important because the present drugs are not effective against the chronic stages of the infection. She has developed novel strategies for the discovery of new mitochondrial proteins and already found a novel enzymatic activity highly divergent from the mammalian counterpart. The outcome of this project will expand the knowledge of the T. gondii mitochondrion, as well as helping with the identification of viable drug targets.

“An AHA Fellowship is a very competitive award, but Barna deserves it and we are very proud of her,” said Moreno.

“Preparing the grant proposal was a great learning experience and it will help me with my career development,” said Baierna, “I’m very happy that it was funded.”

Mayara Bertolini, a post-doctoral fellow in Roberto Docampo’s laboratory, received an American Heart Association Post-doctoral Fellowship. It will support her training for one year.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Bertolini obtained her master’s degree in a lab that Docampo had set up in Brazil working on T. cruzi. From there she decided to pursue her Ph.D. at the University of Georgia. She completed her Ph.D. in 2023.

Trypanosoma cruzi is the parasite that causes Chagas disease. At least 6 million people, mostly in South America, are infected with the parasite. T. cruzi is transmitted to humans through the feces of an insect commonly referred to as the kissing bug. While Chagas disease was first discovered in 1909, there is still a lot that is unknown about the biology of T. cruzi. This lack of knowledge has hindered drug development. Bertolini’s project is focused on the role of polyphosphate during the Trypanosoma cruzi life cycle.

“This is the second fellowship from the AHA that Mayara has received. She got a two-year pre-doctoral fellowship before and has done outstanding work,” said Docampo.

“AHA Fellowships are very competitive and I’m thrilled my proposal was selected,” said Bertolini. “In addition to supporting my training, there is support for career development and networking opportunities.”

 

The story originally appeared at https://research.uga.edu/news/two-ctegd-trainees-receive-aha-fellowships/

Trainee Spotlight: Corey Rennolds

Corey Rennolds

 

My name is Corey Rennolds, and I’ve been a postdoctoral researcher in Tania Rozario’s lab at UGA since August 2022. I’m originally from Cobb County, GA, where I went to grade school, received my B.S. in Biology from Georgia Tech in 2013, and completed my PhD at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2022.

What made you want to study science?
The big bucks, baby!! More honestly, I enjoy learning how things work for its own sake, and I liked the idea of a career spent always learning more about how things in the world work. I started as an undergraduate in engineering but quickly switched to biology when I realized that I was more interested in natural systems than artificial ones (and that I wasn’t very good at calculus). I have other interests of course, but science translates the most smoothly of those into a stable and rewarding way to make a living.

Why did you choose UGA?
I’m originally from the Atlanta area and spent a lot of time in Athens when I was an undergraduate, even though I went to Tech. Now living and working here feels like coming home for me. I finished my PhD and wanted to continue in a research-oriented direction as a postdoc in an academic setting, and UGA is a big, well-funded institution with a strong biology contingent and several faculty in the ballpark of my more narrow expertise. Altogether, it seemed like a good fit.

What is your project/research focus and why did you choose this research focus?
Dr. Rozario learned during her own postdoctoral work that the rat tapeworm Hymenolepis diminuta requires a population of stem cells maintained in the adult worm in order to grow and regenerate, but there was little information on how these cells are activated, how many different varieties there are, their plasticity, and how they differentiate into mature tissue types. Dr. Rozario wanted to hire a postdoc with experience in transcriptomics and regenerative biology in non-model organisms, which is fortunately my background. I thought the project was really interesting with opportunity to do novel work that would stand out. It also gives me the chance to learn a lot of cutting-edge techniques that can be valuable for my research in the long term.

Have you received any awards or honors?
Aside from the T32 postdoctoral fellowship through the CTEGD, I received a few scholarships, fellowships, and other awards during graduate school, including small research grants from Sigma Xi, the Cosmos Club, and Washington Biologists’ Field Club. I would also be remiss not to mention my first-place finish in the most recent CTEGD chili cook-off.

What are your career goals?
I spent most of graduate school as a TA (tip for prospective graduate students: ask your PI about funding!) and so racked up plenty of experience in teaching and discovered that I really enjoy doing it. I want teaching to be a significant part of my career activities going forward, as opposed to just full-time research. Research-wise, though, I am interested in building an independent research program focused on bridging evolutionary-developmental biology with comparative and ecological physiology. To put it simply, I want to study how living things grow, develop, and repair themselves, where and how they get the resources to do these things, and how those processes are affected by environmental factors, including over evolutionary timescales. Working with intestinal parasites is definitely an interesting and challenging context for thinking about these sorts of broad questions.

What is your favorite thing about UGA and Athens?
Athens is close enough to Atlanta to access its amenities but far enough away to be its own ecosystem free of the sprawl. It’s big enough to have a little of everything, including a vibrant and diverse arts scene, but small enough to get to know most of the people in whatever sphere you want to be involved in. The university offers plenty of opportunities for both intellectual stimulation and less-intellectual partying. The traffic isn’t too bad.

Any advice for a student interested in this field?
Don’t settle too much. It is perfectly fine to have standards during your education and assert yourself when called for. You should study what you enjoy, attend school somewhere you want to be, and work with people you get along with. Not everything will be perfect and you should learn when to compromise, of course, but it’s your life and your career. If something isn’t working out, make a change, and be open to alternative paths—if I didn’t take the initiative to change course when I did, I wouldn’t be a biologist now. Think carefully about what is in your best interest personally and professionally in both the short and long term. Also, learn when to identify opportunities to learn something useful or gain valuable experience. In CTEGD, there are a lot of different technical resources, training and professional development opportunities, and diverse faculty expertise; make use of all these things, it’s what they’re there for!

 

Support trainees like Corey by giving today to the Center for Tropical & Emerging Global Diseases.

Diego Huet zeroes in on parasite that affects thousands each year

Diego Huet
Diego Huet, assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy and the Center for Tropical & Emerging Global Diseases, studies parasites that cause disease in both humans and animals. His lab has ramped up a project to better understand the biology of Toxoplasma gondii , an organism carried by cats that is related to the parasite that causes malaria. (Photo by Lauren Corcino)

 

From an early age, Diego Huet has been interested in the unusual and fascinating found in the natural world.

His early encounters with animals, plants and insects nurtured his curiosity about nature. Their striking colors and sometimes strange shapes drew his interest, and even today he continues to capture them through macro photography. It was this fascination that led him to the parasite he studies today.

“I was always drawn to ‘unconventional’ or ‘weird’ science,” said Huet, an assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences and member of the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases. “But I also wanted to be hands on, which is what led me to molecular and cellular biology.”

As a doctoral student, Huet began studying Trypanosoma brucei, a parasite commonly transmitted by the tsetse fly. Wanting to study a different parasite as a postdoctoral researcher, he was torn between studying Plasmodium, which is the causative agent of malaria, and Toxoplasma gondii, a related parasite that is carried by cats. Both parasites, which belong to a group of organisms called apicomplexans, cause diseases in humans and animals, and there remain large knowledge gaps in our basic understanding of them. Ultimately, he chose the latter.

Plasmodium is difficult to manipulate,” Huet said. “Toxoplasma is related to Plasmodium, but is easier to work with because it isn’t as complex, and what we learn about Toxo could also increase our knowledge of Plasmodium.”

Just as yeast and fruit flies are used as model organisms to study human biology, Toxoplasma can be used as a model for shared features of apicomplexan biology.

Besides aiding in the understanding of other parasites of human and veterinary concern, including parasites that cause malaria in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, Toxoplasma gondii also causes human and animal disease. More than 40 million people in the U.S. are estimated to carry T. gondii. Although most never show symptoms, it poses a major health threat to immunocompromised individuals and pregnant women as it can lead to miscarriage and birth defects. Toxoplasmosis, the disease caused by Toxoplasma, is considered a leading cause of death among foodborne illnesses though it can also be transmitted through contact with cat feces.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has it listed as a neglected parasitic infection in the United States and a target for public health action.

Huet joined the faculty at the University of Georgia in 2019 and has developed a robust research program to expand knowledge of the basic biology of Toxoplasma.

Madelaine Usey
Madelaine Usey is a cellular biology graduate student in the Huet Laboratory.

In a recently published study in “mBio”, cellular biology doctoral candidate and Huet Lab member Madelaine Usey looked at proteins critical for mitochondrial function in T. gondii. The mitochondrion is considered the “powerhouse of the cell,” but it is an enzyme called ATP synthase that generates the cellular energy.

“Our findings are really exciting for drug discovery,” Usey said. “Many of the proteins that make up the ATP synthase are different in Toxoplasma compared to other organisms. In this study, we were able to figure out what two of those novel subunits are doing—they act as scaffolding for this enormous ATP synthase complex.”

These proteins are unique to Toxoplasma and could be used in drug discovery as targets since they are important for mitochondrial functioning.

Another project in Huet’s laboratory, which recently received funding through a grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, investigates how organelles within the parasite communicate.

“Traditionally, we thought organelles send and receive calcium and other metabolites in much the same way we receive a package through the mail,” Huet said. “Cells form vesicles to transport materials to specific locations within the cell. The vesicles are labeled with proteins that act like a postal address, telling the vesicle where to go.”

However, cells can also exchange material through another process.

“When the organelles’ membranes get close together, they form what is called a membrane contact site,” Huet said. “In this case it is more like one organelle hand delivers the package to another.”

A membrane contact site is a specialized protein structure that organelles use for intracellular communication. However, it is not a well understood structure in apicomplexans. In addition, these parasites have additional organelles not found in traditional models like humans and yeast, so Huet is trying to understand how the organellar communication is happening in apicomplexans using Toxoplasma as a model.

Identifying such proteins and their functions could lead to better drug targets and better drug treatments, which all the neglected parasitic diseases need.

“Toxo’s genome isn’t well annotated,” Huet said. “Finding membrane contact site proteins is an arduous task—it’s a goal of my lab to identify some of them and their involvement in Toxoplasma membrane contact sites.”

 

This article was first published at https://research.uga.edu/news/diego-huet-zeroes-in-on-parasite-that-affects-thousands-each-year/

Undergraduate Research Experience Sparked Interest in Parasitology for Graduate Student

doctoral student Victoria Mendiola

My name is Victoria Mendiola and I am a PhD candidate in Dennis Kyle’s lab studying drug-induced dormancy in Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite responsible for malaria. I have been at UGA for four years but originally received my BSc in Biology and MSc of Integrative Biology from Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, GA.

My interest in infectious diseases stems from an NSF REU research internship where I was first introduced to the complexities of parasite-host interactions on an organismal level by studying hookworm infections in South American fur seals (SAFS) in the Gottdenker Lab at UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

During my REU, I fell in love with Athens and the scientific community in the area but the large number of tropical disease parasitologists solidified my reason for choosing UGA to continue my studies.

My doctoral research focuses on developing novel high-content imaging assays to incorporate Artemisinin-induced dormant Plasmodium falciparum recovery into the current understanding of drug treatment, therapeutics, and prevention. Of the species of Plasmodium that infect humans, P. falciparum is the deadliest and, unfortunately, is becoming resistant to current treatment options.

In August 2023, I received the CTEGD Training in Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases fellowship. In addition to providing up to two years of funding, there is also the opportunity for a capstone experience. I plan to use the capstone project opportunity to gain essential in-field, on-site training to complement my current wet lab skillset.

My long-term career goal is to utilize my diverse training in physiology, developmental biology, cellular biology, and infectious diseases to design, optimize, and implement phenotypic and behavioral assays in the context of drug discovery and parasite homeostasis.

For students who are interested in joining the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases, I suggest they take every opportunity to talk to other researchers in and out of their field and organism of study. The sense of community within the CTEGD is unparalleled and should be utilized at every given opportunity. The friends I have made in and outside of the lab is one of my favorite things about being here at UGA (but the local festivals are really fun too).

Support trainees like Victoria by giving today to the Center for Tropical & Emerging Global Diseases.

UGA researchers received prestigious grant to develop malaria drug

by Amy Horton

Chet Joyner and Steven Maher
Principal Investigators Chet Joyner (left) and Steven Maher (right). Photo credit: Donna Huber

 

New compound targets P. vivax, source of recent U.S. infections

Two University of Georgia researchers have been awarded approximately $770,000 from the Global Health Initiative Technology (GHIT) Fund to develop a new drug to kill the dormant liver stages of Plasmodium vivax, the most widespread of the malaria parasites. This amount is part of a total of JPY 334,238,778 awarded by the GHIT Fund to a partnership consisting of UGA, Medicine for Malaria Venture and Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation.

P. vivax often persists in the liver of patients, causing a relapse infection following treatment of the symptomatic blood infection,” said Steven Maher, associate research scientist in the Office of Research’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases (CTEGD). “In many parts of the world, relapses account for the majority of total P. vivax cases.”

The announcement comes on the heels of reports of the first locally acquired cases of malaria in the United States in 20 years. In the summer of 2023, seven cases of locally acquired P. vivax malaria were reported in Sarasota, Fla., and one in Cameron County, Texas. These are in addition to a case of P. falciparum diagnosed in a Maryland resident living in the National Capital Region.

Most malaria cases diagnosed in the United States occur in people who have traveled to countries in South America, Africa, and southeast Asia where malaria is endemic. While locally acquired mosquito-transmitted malaria cases can occur, as Anopheles mosquito vectors exist throughout the United States, they are rare. The last reported outbreak was in 2003 when eight cases of locally acquired P. vivax malaria were identified in Palm Beach County, Fla.

The GHIT award will allow Maher and Chet Joyner to develop a compound series drug-screening program. Joyner is an assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Infectious Diseases and Center for Vaccines and Immunology and jointly appointed to CTEGD.

Microscopy image of Plasmodium vivax
Microscopy image of a P. vivax dormant (left, green) and growing (right, green) liver parasites inside of human liver cells (nuclei in purple). Image taken using 100x magnification. The dormant form survives most antimalarial treatments, but the new series of antimalarials kills both forms of the parasite. (Image credit: Wayne Cheng)

The compound series identified by Maher, the result of testing more than 100,000 samples using infected liver cells, is the first new chemical class discovered in more than 70 years with efficacy against the persisting liver stage. Over the next two years, Maher and Joyner will be collaborating with Medicine for Malaria Venture and Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation to alter the chemistry of the compound to improve drug-like properties, including half-life and potency, necessary to achieve single dose criteria.

“Discovering a drug to kill dormant, non-proliferating cells is extremely difficult, yet with the novel assay the team developed we now have the first new target and drug class with potential to accelerate global malaria elimination efforts,” said Dennis Kyle, director of the CTEGD.

The current drug class used to treat P. vivax malaria, 8-aminoquinolines, often results in serious side effects and cannot be administered to pregnant women, who are one of the patient groups most in need of treatment.

“We have the first validated compound that kills vivax while it lies dormant in the liver,” Joyner said. “We hope in the next two years to help advance the new compounds to clinical testing.”

Lisa K. Nolan, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, said the work Maher and Joyner are doing could deliver a better quality of life to millions of people around the world.

“This great research is a shining example of our commitment to translational research, which will take this drug from the lab to preclinical testing to the patient rapidly,” Nolan said.

Chagas disease research in the news

Rick Tarleton

DDN Dialogues

Rick Tarleton was recently interviewed for the Drug Discovery News podcast. Listen as he talks about his research into new drug treatments for Chagas disease.

A written transcript is available on DDN’s website.

KFF Health News

Rick Tarleton, along with Drew Etheridge‘s lab, was featured in a KFF Health News story about Chagas disease that has been picked up by a number of media outlets.

KFF Health News (Spanish translation)

NBC News

California Healthline

News Medicine

CNN

Sun Herald

The San Diego Union-Tribune