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Category: CTEGD Blog

Anat Florentin receives 2018 Postdoctoral Research Award

Anat Florentin, a postdoctoral researcher in Vasant Muralidharan‘s laboratory at the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases, studies molecular mechanisms that drive life stages of Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of parasite species that infect humans with malaria. During her exceptionally productive years at UGA, she has advanced two related areas of research to learn more about the functions of P. falciparum gene and metabolic pathways. First, she established a highly efficient, markerless system to create mutants more rapidly using the powerful CRISPR-Cas9-based genetic editing tool. Her data from this project was published in the high-impact journal mSphere. Second, she used the CRISPR-Cas9 tool to understand P. falciparum’s unique plastid known as the apicoplast, which harbors essential metabolic pathways for the parasite’s growth and whose biological processes could be ideal parasite-specific drug targets. This work has been recognized by multiple invitations to present her work and a first author publication in Cell Reports.

Created in 2011, the Postdoctoral Research Award recognizes the remarkable contributions of postdoctoral research scholars to the UGA research enterprise. The UGA Research Foundation funds up to two awards a year to current scholars.

28th Annual Molecular Parasitology & Vector Biology Symposium

 

Join us on Thursday, April 26 for the 28th Annual Molecular Parasitology & Vector Biology. We are expecting 200 researchers from 19 organizations to attend this day-long conference that features 12 talks, 59 poster presentations, and a fully catered lunch. The day will conclude with a keynote address from Patricia Johnson from UCLA’s Molecular Biology Institute.

 

Download Abstract Book

Schedule

8:15 am – Registration begins in front of Masters Hall

8:30 am – Poster set-up in Pecan Tree Galleria

9:00 am – Opening Remarks & Session I – Masters Hall

10:10 am – Break and Poster Viewing – Pecan Tree Galleria

10:50 am – Session II – Masters Hall

12:10 pm – Lunch in Ballroom & Poster viewing – Pecan Tree Galleria

1:30 pm – Session III – Masters Hall

2:30 pm – Break and Poster Viewing – Pecan Tree Galleria

3:00 pm – Session IV – Masters Hall

3:40 pm – Introduction of Keynote Speaker

View the schedule of presentations for the 28th Annual Molecular Parasitology & Vector Biology Symposium.

Parking:

There is a parking deck next to the Georgia Center. Since it is Reading Day at UGA there should be plenty of space in the South Deck. However, the Carlton Street Deck is a short walk from the Georgia Center if additional parking is needed.

Speakers:

Speakers should receive an email with a link to a Dropbox folder to upload their presentation. Please upload your presentation before 8:00 am Thursday, April 26.

More information is available on our symposium page.

Sign up for our mailing list to get announcements about next year’s symposium.

CTEGD Undergraduates Present at CURO Symposium

David Peterson with undergraduate student

A number of undergraduates who have conducted research in CTEGD laboratories will be presenting their projects at the University of Georgia’s CURO Symposium on Monday, April 9 and Tuesday, April 10 at the Classic Center.

Oral Session 1 – Monday, April 9 11:15 – 12:05

Room I: Trisha Dalapati, Foundation Fellow, CURO Research Assistant, Effects of Plasmodium falciparum on Placental Expression of Inflammatory and Coagulation Factors (Julie Moore)

Room J: Logan Ballard, CURO Research Assistant, Developmental Changes in Extracellular Vesicles from
African Trypanosomes (Stephen Hajduk)

Oral Session 3 – Monday, April 9 1:25 – 2:15

Room G: Matthew Martinez, CURO Research Assistant, Evaluation of Proteins Secreted by Toxoplasma gondii (Drew Etheridge)

Poster Session – Monday, April 9 4:30 – 6:30

Poster #186: Rahul Abhijit Katkar, In vitro Expression of VAR2CSA DBL3x Binding Domains to Assess Receptor Binding (David Peterson)

Poster #188: Serah Achi Okeke, The Effect of Ivermectin on Different Strains of Caenorhabditis elegans (Adrian Wolstenholme)

Poster #248: Hannah Paige McQueen, CURO Research Assistant, Microscopy Analysis of Trypanosome Nanotubes and Extracellular Vesicles (Stephen Hajduk)

Poster #251: Margot Perrin Palmer, Developing a Diagnostic Test for African Trypanosomiasis:
A Study of Extracellular Vesicles Produced by African Trypanosomes (Stephen Hajduk)

Poster #252: Soroosh Parsa, CURO Research Assistant, Structural Studies of Gnt1 and its Potential Role in SCF Complex Formation (Christopher West)

Poster # 267: Arden Anne Farr, Foundation Fellow, Point Mutations in Kelch 13 and Artemisinin Resistance in Malaria Parasites (Vasant Muralidharan)

Poster #271: Caroline McElhannon, CURO Research Assistant, Memory Immune Response to T. cruzi Reinfection Requires Similar Activation Time as Primary Infection (Rick Tarleton)

Poster #272: Zehra Rahman, CURO Research Assistant, Standardization of an in vitro Culture of Plasmodium
falciparum CB132 Gametocytes to Evaluate Transmission into Anopheles stephensi (Dennis Kyle)

Poster #274: Dylon Stephens, CURO Research Assistant, Clp Family Proteins and their Biological Significance in Plasmodium falciparum (Vasant Muralidharan)

Poster #277: Georgia McClure Wilson, The First CRISPR/Cas9-base Reverse Genetic Screen in Trypanosoma cruzi (Rick Tarleton)

Oral Session 6 – Tuesday, April 10 11:00 – 12:15

Room C: Steven Carroll, Cell Division Cycle Regulates Kinetoplast Division (Kojo Mensa-Wilmot)

Room H: Sachi Shastri, CURO Honors Scholar, Investigating the Role of Inflammation and Hypercoagulation in Placental Malaria (Julie Moore)

 

CTEGD Newsletter: Fall 2017 – Winter 2018

Spring flowers at Coverdell

It is spring in Athens and that is always an exciting time for the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases! We always look forward to our annual signature event, the Molecular Parasitology & Vector Biology Symposium. This year will mark the 28th edition of the meeting that brings together students, staff, postdocs, and research scientists from around the southeastern US to focus on the neglected tropical diseases caused by eukaryotic pathogens. This year the symposium will be held on April 26th at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education and will feature talks by students and postdocs from CTEGD and visitors from other universities. In particular, we are excited that Dr. Patricia Johnson, Professor of Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics at UCLA will
present the Keynote Address. Dr. Johnson’s research focuses on the molecular and cellular biology of Trichomonas vaginalis, the cause of the most prevalent, non-viral, sexually transmitted infection worldwide. Please make plans to join us in Athens for the symposium.

As you will see in this edition of the CTEGD Newsletter, we have an exciting array of published studies, significant awards, and new grant funding that demonstrate the culture of excellence and scientific productivity by our center’s faculty, staff and students. In addition to multiple awards and recognitions for faculty and their research teams, I’m particularly proud of the spotlight focused on our pre-doctoral and post-doctoral trainees in this edition of the newsletter. Each of these trainees has exciting projects that they lead under the direction of our world-class faculty. Importantly, the CTEGD provides the robust scientific environment that is the venue for training this next generation of leaders in the fight against neglected tropical diseases caused by parasites.

We also have exciting news that our two core activities, the Biomedical Microscopy Core and the Cytometry Shared Resource Laboratory, are adding new instruments and capabilities that will support CTEGD as well as the broader UGA scientific community. We will highlight these new additions in our next newsletter once the instruments are installed. We thank Provost Pamela Whitten and Vice President for Research David Lee for supporting these core facilities with the new instrumentation.

Last but not least I want to thank the donors that provided support for CTEGD activities. All donations, no matter how small or large, help the CTEGD to achieve our mission of “Global Health Through Research.”

~ Dennis Kyle

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Honors student named 2018 Goldwater Scholar

Trisha Dalapati

Trisha Dalapati, an undergraduate studying in Julie Moore’s laboratory, is among 211 students from across the nation to be recognized as Barry Goldwater Scholars, earning the highest undergraduate award of its type for the fields of the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering.

Georgia institutions had a total of six Goldwater Scholars. UGA had the highest number with three and was joined by Berry College, Emory University and Spelman College, which had one scholar each. Guy Eroh and Stephan George are the other two UGA undergraduates receiving this honor.

Dalapati, a junior from Roswell, is majoring in anthropology and biochemistry and molecular biology and working toward a master’s degree in comparative biomedical sciences. She plans to obtain an M.D./Ph.D. in infectious diseases after graduating from UGA. As a translational medicine researcher, she intends to investigate disease pathogenesis to create diagnostic tools for vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and children.

She currently conducts cell and tissue culture work with Julie Moore, a professor of infectious disease and associate vice president for research, in Moore’s placental malaria lab. She also analyzes data remotely with Moses Batwala of the University of Oxford Nuffield Department of Women’s & Reproductive Health.

In addition to her research, Dalapati is a Foundation Fellow, director of the Lunchbox Garden Project, a committee chair for the Model United Nations and a member of the Honors Program Student Council, Palladia Women’s Honor Society and Omicron Delta Kappa. Dalapati received the best poster award at the Emory STEM Symposium and is an Indian classical dancer.

“The university congratulates Trisha, Guy and Stephan on this outstanding achievement,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “Our newest Goldwater Scholars reflect the tremendous strength of our students as well as the commitment of exceptional faculty mentors who guide and teach them. I look forward to all that these amazing students will accomplish in the coming years.”

Since 1995, 56 UGA students have received the Goldwater Scholarship, all of whom have been members of the Honors Program.

The scholarship recognizes exceptional sophomores and juniors across the nation. This year, awardees were selected from a field of 1,280 undergraduates and were nominated by campus representatives from among 2,000 colleges and universities nationwide. They will receive up to $7,500 toward the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board.

Of this year’s Goldwater Scholars, 29 are mathematics and computer science majors, 142 are majoring in the natural sciences, and 40 are majoring in engineering. Many are majoring in a combination of mathematics, science, engineering and computer science.

“I am so thrilled for each of these students,” said David S. Williams, associate provost and director of the Honors Program, who serves as the UGA campus faculty representative for the Goldwater Scholarship. “All of them richly deserve recognition by the Goldwater Foundation for their hard work and research excellence. I think it speaks volumes that they came to UGA from across the country because they knew about the quality of our undergraduate research program and the strong support that faculty members provide to our students.”

 

 

The scholarship honoring Sen. Barry Goldwater was designed to encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, natural sciences and engineering. Since its first award in 1989, the Foundation has bestowed 8,132 scholarships worth approximately $65 million.

 

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Writer: Stephanie Schupska, 706-542-4975, schupska@uga.edu

Contact: Jessica Hunt, 706-542-6206, jhunt@uga.edu

Study reveals key cause of treatment failure in Chagas disease

Rick Tarleton
Photo by Peter Frey

Researchers at the University of Georgia have discovered that dormancy of the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi prevents effective drug treatment for Chagas disease, which kills more than 50,000 people each year in Central and South America and is a growing threat in the United States and Europe.

The disease infects an estimated 6 million to 7 million people, according to the World Health Organization, although some scientists estimate the number could be as high as 20 million. Chagas disease causing irreparable damage to the heart and digestive system, and effective prevention and treatment methods are virtually nonexistent.

Proliferating Tdtomato expressing Trypanosoma cruzi amastigotes dilute the violet dye staining while non-replicating dormant parasite in the same host cell retains the violet signal.

In a new study published in eLife, Rick Tarleton and his research team at the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases sought to determine why drug treatments such as benzimidazole frequently fail.

“Benzimidazole has been shown to be particularly effective in reducing parasite infection,” said Tarleton, Regents’ Professor in the department of cellular biology.  “A single dose can eliminate nearly 90 percent of parasites within 48 hours, but we didn’t know why it didn’t kill 100 percent of the parasites.”

For the first time, they show that a small proportion of T. cruzi parasites halt replication within 24 hours of invading the host cell. These dormant parasites are resistant to extended drug treatment and can resume replication after treatment ends, thus re-establishing a growing infection.

The researchers don’t know why some of the parasites exhibit this behavior, but they are hopeful that future studies into this mechanism will shed more light on the way T. cruzi evades the host’s immune response.

“This isn’t drug resistance in the classical way we think of resistance,” said Tarleton. “The parasites aren’t dormant because of the presence of the drug.”

In fact, while treatment continued they saw some of the dormant parasites “wake up” and then become susceptible to the treatment. The team believes the key to effective treatment will be to catch the parasite as they resume replication, continuing medication until no parasites remain in the host.

“This discovery really offers a solution for current drugs to be used in a more effective way,” said Tarleton. “A longer, less concentrated dosing schedule could lead to a cure.”

T. cruzi lifecycle
Life cycle of Trypanosoma cruzi, the cause of Chagas disease (graphic by Lindsay Robinson

 

An online version of the study is available: https://elifesciences.org/articles/34039

UGA researchers battle neglected diseases around the globe

by Leigh Beeson

Dennis Kyle
Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases Director Dennis Kyle’s lab currently focuses on malaria, one of the world’s most prolific parasitic diseases, and the diseases caused by free-living amoebae. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)
A UGA center takes on a public health problem that includes more than a dozen diseases of poverty.

Lymphatic filariasis. Schistosomiasis. Cryptosporidiosis. They’re some of the world’s most widespread parasitic diseases, but many people have never heard of them.

Those who live in Western nations are lucky—these diseases don’t really have to be on their radar. But for more than 2 billion people across the globe, the risk of contracting a disfiguring or potentially deadly parasitic disease is constant.

UGA’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases (CTEGD) is aiming to change that.

Rick Tarleton
Rick Tarleton, founder of the Center for Tropical and Emerging Diseases, stands in front of the Coverdell Center where much of the center is housed. (Photo by Peter Frey/UGA)

Founded 20 years ago by Regents Professor of Cellular Biology Rick Tarleton, CTEGD consolidates UGA’s extensive, campus-wide tropical disease knowledge and drug discovery expertise into an interdisciplinary research unit that focuses on finding solutions for parasitic diseases. The center has garnered more than $135 million in research funding, and its 25 faculty, spanning eight departments across four colleges and schools, focus on more than a dozen diseases commonly associated with poverty.

Parasite-caused illnesses ravage developing nations across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, especially in areas already afflicted by inadequate housing, poor sanitation and unsafe water supplies, and stagnant or failing economies. In addition to a significant death toll, neglected disease means billions of dollars in lost productivity—the kind of economic hit that can upheave governments.

“These diseases cause poverty. Poverty breeds unrest. Unrest breeds political difficulties,” says Daniel Colley, professor of microbiology and the center’s former director. “If you can provide people with good health, you can take away a tremendous amount of angst in people’s lives.”

But governments often don’t have the ability or the resources to fix the problem. And, while several pharmaceutical companies donate existing drugs for some neglected diseases, there’s little incentive for pharmaceutical companies to develop new treatments for many of them, says Kojo Mensa-Wilmot, head of the Department of Cellular Biology and CTEGD member.

“If a large pharmaceutical company goes to its shareholders and tells them it’s going to invest $300 million to find a drug to treat a disease for people who have it but cannot pay for medication, no board member will vote for that project, and I cannot blame them,” he says. “That’s why we need people in academic institutions who are going to spend their time to try and help prevent or mitigate these very important global diseases.”

Kojo Mensa-Wilmot
Kojo Mensa-Wilmot, department head, cellular biology

With infectious disease expert and cellular biologist Dennis Kyle now at the helm, the center’s diverse group of scientists, which includes entomologists, food safety researchers, geneticists, and more, are united in their commitment to vanquishing global diseases of poverty while training the next generation of scientists.

“It is a point of pride for UGA that we have this world-class assembly of scientists working on parasitic and neglected tropical diseases,” says David Lee, vice president for research. “Their work is so impressive and impactful because it is multidimensional, encompassing numerous disciplines from molecular and cellular biology to immunology and vaccinology, and extending from laboratory-based investigations to field work in Africa, South America, and elsewhere.”

For Kyle, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Antiparasitic Drug Discovery, the scope of the problem really hit home when he moved to Thailand in the early 1990s.

“I saw people suffering and dying of malaria,” Kyle says. “Most don’t realize how many people are affected by parasitic diseases like malaria, and the effort to try to eliminate those diseases is just not what it should be.”

Children very vulnerable

People infected with malaria present with symptoms similar to many viral illnesses: fever, chills, and headaches. The difference is that, left untreated, malaria intensifies after the first 24 hours, ultimately leading to respiratory distress and multi-organ failure. There are more than 200 million clinical cases of malaria every year, with almost half a million people dying from the disease. Of those, three out of four are children.

“It sounds like a great decrease from the 2 to 3 million people who died annually from malaria in past decades, but it still means that basically one child under the age of 5 is dying every minute,” Kyle says. “We still have lot of people who are suffering, and we have to come up with better drugs to fight the disease.”

In partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Medicines for Malaria Venture, Kyle developed a drug-testing device in his lab and is using it to test thousands of potential treatments in the hopes of finding the next wonder drug. But it’s an uphill battle, as the disease quickly grows resistant to the drugs intended to vanquish it.

“The malaria parasite has adapted to infect us, yet we have to fight it off somehow,” Kyle says. “Resistance is a big problem, and that’s one of the reasons we study it. We’ve identified new ways the parasite avoids the current drugs on the market, and we’re building on that knowledge to create better drug candidates going forward.”

Jessica Kissinger
Jessica Kissinger, Distinguished Research Professor of Genetics. (Photo by Peter Frey/UGA)

What’s going on at the University of Georgia? That’s the question Distinguished Research Professor of Genetics Jessica Kissinger hears at parasitic disease conferences across the nation.

“CTEGD put Georgia on the map for tropical disease research,” says Kissinger, who was one of the first faculty to be recruited by the center. “Researchers and graduate students want to come to Georgia because we have CTEGD.”

Kissinger is a principal investigator on a National Institutes of Health-funded project known as EuPathDB, short for Bioinformatics Resource Center for Eukaryotic Pathogens. The online resource consolidates genomic information from thousands of datasets on more than 280 disease-causing organisms, enabling researchers to look up others’ lab results to test hypotheses rather than having to do basic, preliminary experiments themselves. This saves both time and resources. The database, which attracts about 50,000 users per month from countries across the globe, has revolutionized how research on parasites is conducted.

“It’s taken for granted if you want to plan a trip that there are lots of online databases you can use, and within seconds, you can find flights from competing companies, what seats are free, and hotel and rental car information,” says Kissinger, director of UGA’s Institute of Bioinformatics. “They’ve made your life easier by linking together diverse things. Our EuPathDB database is basically the Expedia or Trivago for research on an important class of human pathogens.”

It wasn’t Briana Flaherty’s PhD ’15 first trip abroad when she went with Colley’s research group to Kenya. It wasn’t even her first trip to a developing nation. But it was the first time she spoke with people who had experienced firsthand the effects of living in areas where the threat of infection with any number of parasitic diseases was constant.

“Tropical diseases are so prevalent in Kenya that it’s almost like the common cold.” — Briana Flaherty

A doctoral candidate in CTEGD member David Peterson’s malaria lab at the time, Flaherty worked with Colley’s team to explore the effects of worm-transmitted parasites on immune responses to standard vaccinations.

“Tropical diseases are so prevalent in Kenya that it’s almost like the common cold,” says Flaherty, now a postdoctoral fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Everyone has had one, and everyone knows someone whose life has been taken by one. It’s why the work of CTEGD is so important.”

Colley’s work in Kenya is part of a larger global collaboration he founded almost 10 years ago called SCORE, short for Schistosomiasis Consortium for Operational Research and Evaluation. Funded by a grant from the Gates Foundation, SCORE’s mission is to control and eventually eliminate schistosomiasis, a disease caused by worms that leads to anemia and stunted growth and affects at least 240 million people. Another 700 million people are at risk of contracting the parasite, making schistosomiasis one of the major parasitic diseases in the world.

It’s not particularly deadly, at least not when compared to malaria, but the adult worms live inside people’s veins, laying eggs that ultimately embed and can cause severe damage to surrounding tissues.

“Schistosomiasis contributes to anemia, wasting, and stunting in childhood,” Colley says. “Tropical diseases like schistosomiasis keep children from going to school to learn. They keep people from getting good jobs.

“These are important diseases that are vastly understudied. CTEGD is turning that around.”

 

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(This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Georgia Magazine.)