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Category: CTEGD Blog

Trainee Spotlight: Emma Troth

Emma Troth

Emma Troth, a Ph.D. trainee in Dennis Kyle‘s laboratory, is entering her fourth year at UGA. She is originally from Eureka, Illinois, and attended Bradley University where she majored in Biology with a minor in Ethics. While at UGA, Emma has served as president of the CTEGD Graduate Student Association (2019-2020) and is currently the CTEGD Graduate Student Association representative.

How did you get interested in neglected tropical diseases?

As an undergraduate, I participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates program at the University of Notre Dame. At Notre Dame, I worked on a project characterizing malaria vectors in the Solomon Islands and Indonesia. My summer at Notre Dame sparked my interest in neglected tropical diseases.

Why did you choose UGA?

I chose UGA because of the diversity of research. Coming into graduate school, I knew I was interested in infectious diseases but did not have my heart set on a particular organism to work on. UGA works on the biggest selection of infectious organisms. With the Integrated Life Sciences Program, I had the opportunity to experience multiple labs working on different organisms, regardless of department, to help me identify where I would like to complete my doctoral degree.

What is your research focus? Why are you interested in this topic?

My project focuses on drug discovery for Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoebae. My main project focuses on structure-based drug design to develop novel drug targets against N. fowleri. Additionally, I am working to develop phenotypic drug screening assays to complement our high-throughput drug discovery. I am fascinated by N. fowleri because it is such a mysterious, deadly organism. Though infections may not be as common as other parasitic diseases, nearly all cases of primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) are fatal. This amoeba is grossly understudied; very few labs in the world research this organism. It is both a privilege and a challenge to be able to work on this neglected parasite.

Have you done any fieldwork or is there a collaborator/field site that you would like to visit in order to enhance your training?

I hope to complete an internship with the Task Force for Global Health. This internship will ideally include fieldwork with one of their neglected tropical disease programs.

What are your future professional plans?

Going forward, I would like to continue my career in neglected tropical diseases with an emphasis on global health. I am particularly interested in a career involving field research. Ultimately, I hope to work for a government agency like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or a non-profit organization focused on neglected tropical diseases.

What is your favorite thing about Athens?

My favorite thing about Athens is the food! There is such a variety of local restaurants and new restaurants are continually opening. Coming from a small undergraduate institution, I really enjoy the atmosphere of a large university in a small college town. Athens is a very easy city to feel “at home”.

Any advice for a student interested in this field?

Never be afraid to reach out for help, wherever you need it! Coming into graduate school can be intimidating and at times, isolating. There are so many people eager to help you on your graduate school journey and ultimately want to see you succeed. Particularly within the CTEGD, I have always been met with kind and willing responses. All it takes is for you to take the step and reach out!

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

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SCORE – a decade of operational research with a lasting legacy

Dan Colley

It all began with a simple phone call and now, more than a decade later, the Schistosomiasis Consortium for Operational Control and Evaluation (SCORE) is preparing to pass the baton to new groups of investigators working on understanding and controlling schistosomiasis. Under the direction of Dan Colley, a member of the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases and professor emeritus of microbiology at the University of Georgia, SCORE has advanced the scientific understanding of how to control schistosomiasis and has moved us closer to the elimination of this devastating and sometimes deadly disease.

The beginning

In January 2008, Colley received a phone call from Dr. Julie Jacobson of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). She wanted Colley to lead a program on how best to control and move towards elimination of schistosomiasis. This program would not be your typical research program.

First, it would involve national Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) programs, the World Health Organization (WHO), and others around the globe who were pursuing ways to control morbidity due to Schistosoma mansoni and S. haematobium and their transmission.

“While there were and are now many individual research programs in academia, governments and NGOs working on how to control and eliminate schistosomiasis, SCORE was somewhat different in its size and complexity, allowing it to mount large-scale studies and do so comparatively across different countries,” said Colley.

Second, the program would not focus on basic research, but the results of their research would be more directly applicable to improving national NTD control programs.

“Julie made it clear that the BMGF was not interested, at this time, in funding basic research on either anti-schistosomal drug development or anti-schistosomal vaccine development,” said Colley.

While there are several Schistosoma spp. that infect humans worldwide, this program would focus only on two species, S. mansoni and S. haematobium. Furthermore, they would focus primarily on interventions to control these infections in Africa.

With the parameters laid out and the definition of what constitutes operational research, Colley agreed to gather together a consortium of scientists and SCORE was born: their mission – to undertake operational research that could support National NTD managers in making decisions about how to best control and/or eliminate schistosomiasis in their countries.

“The vision was that research findings would be useful to the WHO in revising current and developing new guidelines on how best to control and move towards elimination of schistosomiasis,” said Colley.

Over the past decade, their mission has not changed but how they pursued that mission evolved as situations change., such as the increased availability of praziquantel, made possible through a donation of the drug by Merck, AG; a more realistic vision of the integration of NTD programs; and the desire of funders to move more quickly from control of morbidity to elimination of the disease.

The projects

Over the past decade, SCORE has pursued a number of field and laboratory-based projects in 9 African countries. Several of these studies were included in the categories of gaining control, sustaining control of schistosomiasis, or eliminating its transmission.

The control projects compared how best to deliver Mass Drug Administration (MDA) of praziquantel. Gaining control projects were focused on areas with high prevalence of infection and included research related to subtle morbidity, snail infection, and schistosome population genetics. Sustaining control project focused on areas with moderate prevalence as these areas had already achieved a level of control or simply had lower levels of prevalence.

The original focus of the elimination research project was on Zanzibar and the elimination of S. haematobium. They hoped to inform effective strategies of moving an area of low infection prevalence to total elimination of schistosomiasis. In 2013, with supplemental funding, SCORE expanded its focus on elimination research to focus on S. mansoni in Africa. However, due to conflicts within the country where this research was implemented, SCORE and partners had to withdraw. Instead, SCORE identified another elimination priority on the impact of timed interventions on seasonally transmitted schistosomiasis. This research was conducted in Cote d’Ivoire in a large area with S. haematobium.

Another group of projects focused on tools needed to evaluate control and elimination efforts. They were able to field evaluate the point-of-care circulating cathodic antigen (POC-CCA) urine assay for its use as a mapping tool for S. mansoni infection in humans. They also conducted research and evaluation on highly sensitive and specific human diagnostic tests for schistosomiasis and developed and used tools for schistosome population genetics studies.

Keeping with their mission of supporting national NTD program managers in decision-making, SCORE provided critical information by analyzing and synthesizing existing data in a series of 7 Rapid Answers Projects. Each project resulted in a 2 page brochure providing essential information on a topic of interest to program managers. These brochures are available online at

And finally, in order to optimize the use of the data generated in these large studies, they collected and made them accessible to the scientific community and other stakeholders. SCORE worked with database programmers and statisticians at UGA to integrate the data from various study sites and conduct analyses of combined data, while providing them to all investigators by depositing them in an open database system, ClinEpiDB.

The legacy

In July, the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene published a supplement that summarizes many of the activities, lessons learned, and work that still needs to be done in 16 articles. This supplement is introduced with a guest editorial by N. Robert Bergquist.

Briefly the key findings and take away messages are summarized in Table 1 of the article “Contributions of the Schistosomiasis Consortium for Operational Research and Evaluation (SCORE) to Schistosomiasis Control and Eliminations: Key Findings and Messages for Future Goals, Thresholds, and Operational Research” (

“The impact of SCORE’s findings and messages will depend on their uptake by the WHO/NTD schistosomiasis guidelines development group in the formulation of revised and new guidelines for the control and elimination of schistosomiasis, and then whether national NTD programs consider them worthy of adoption and implementation,” said Colley.

Some of the findings from SCORE are already being implemented, such as the use of the POC-CCA rapid cassette test for mapping S. mansoni prevalence in low-to-moderate areas of schistosomiasis. Other findings, such as the occurrence of persistent hotspots in large-scale MDA programs, are now being considered by other research groups and national NTD programs.

This isn’t really good-bye

SCORE was built on the foundation of a previously BMGF-funded program – the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI). The goal of SCI, which is now a private non-governmental organization, was to determine if preventive chemotherapy, as recommended by the WHO, could be implemented countrywide to control schistosomiasis.

“It was an ambitious undertaking that SCI accomplished in multiple African countries,” said Colley. “Now knowing that with the funding, persistence, and training, MDA countrywide could be done, the BMGF decided to fund a program to compare the frequency and platforms for MDA distribution.”

Of course, that program became SCORE. They took what SCI learned and asked additional questions about how best to conduct the preventive chemotherapy by MDA, and explore what tools were needed to do it better. Now that SCORE has fulfilled its mission, they are passing their findings and lessons learned, along with recommendations, to other groups. One of these, the recently established Global Schistosomiasis Alliance, which includes some of the same people involved with SCORE, has taken up the baton to help harmonize the continued fight to end schistosomiasis.

May 2020 Newsletter

The Arch with early morning sunlight filtering through the trees of North Campus. Credit: Peter Frey/UGA Marketing and Communications

The May CTEGD Newsletter is now available.

In this issue…

Faculty Honors

Trainee Updates

Research news


Giving Opportunities

CTEGD names travel fund for Daniel G. Colley

Dan Colley teaching
Dr. Dan Colley with students (photo credit: Andrew Tucker)

One day Daniel Colley raised his hand to volunteer, setting in motion five decades of scientific adventures. It was 1969, and Colley’s postdoctoral adviser, ByronWaksman, a renowned immunologist at Yale University School of Medicine, had stepped into the laboratory and asked if anyone wanted to go to Brazil. Colley, today a UGA immunologist and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, became fascinated by schistosomiasis, a parasitic worm infection plaguing poverty-stricken communities in sub-Saharan Africa and around the world.

After his Brazil sojourn, Colley arrived at Vanderbilt University in 1971 to begin setting up a lab and a career-long effort to understand the immunological paradox of schistosomiasis. In 1992, he joined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a year later was promoted to director of the Division of Parasitic Diseases. After retiring from the CDC, he arrived at UGA in 2001 as professor of microbiology and director of the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases. During the past decade, Colley has been director of UGA’s Schistosomiasis Consortium for Operational Research and Evaluation (SCORE). In June 2020, Colley retired from the University of Georgia. He has been named Professor Emeritus.

That trip to Brazil was instrumental in shaping Colley’s career. As a mentor, he is passionate about providing the same opportunity to new scientists. Early in his career at UGA, he established the Training Innovations in Parasitological Studies (TIPS) fellowship through funding from the Ellison Medical Foundation, funding that has since ended. In honor of Colley’s commitment to understanding diseases of poverty and training the next generation of scientists, the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases is establishing the Daniel G. Colley Training in Parasitology Fund to continue his legacy.


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Related news: Professor Emeritus Dan Colley to discuss 50 years of Schistosoma research

Ynes Ortega receives grant to study Cyclospora presence in the U.S.

Historically, Cyclospora infection in the United States has been associated with imported fresh produce. However, in 2018, the U.S. saw two significant outbreaks associated with vegetables grown in the United States.

“We had more than 2,000 non-travel associates cyclosporiasis cases,” said Ynes Ortega, member of the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases and associate professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology’s Center for Food Safety.

Fresh produce vegetable trays containing broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and dill dip, which are not often associated with Cyclospora outbreaks, were implicated in the first outbreak affecting 250 people and lettuce from a salad mix used by a fast food chain was the source of the second outbreak with 511 cases.

“Cyclospora has previously been detected in salad greens produced in the US and lettuce implicated in the second outbreak was produced in the U.S.,” said Ortega. “Clearly, we need to determine if Cyclospora is not only a parasite present in other countries but also in the U.S.”

cyclospora factsCyclospora cayetanensis, the single-cell parasite that causes cyclosporiasis, was first described by Ortega in the 1990s. A person becomes infected with the parasite by consuming contaminated food, mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, and water. Infection results in gastrointestinal illness characterized primarily by diarrhea. Cyclosporiasis is treated with sulfa drugs, fluids, and rest. If left untreated, the symptoms can persist for up to a month and can be recurring. Prevention of infection is accomplished by frequent hand washing by those who process fruits and vegetables, thoroughly rinsing fruits and vegetables with water prior to consumption, and avoiding potentially contaminated water while traveling in countries where C. cayetanensis is endemic.

Ortega has been awarded a 2-year grant from the Center for Produce Safety, a non-profit organization committed to addressing issues faced by the produce industry, to investigate C. cayetanensis presence in the United States.

“We will be testing surface water for the presence of Cyclospora cayetanensis, improving sample collection methods, and genotyping of the parasite,” said Ortega.

Up until 2018, it was believed that Cyclospora was not present in the United States. Therefore, one of the main goals of this grant is to determine how widely distributed this parasite is within the United States. To aid in this determination, a simpler and more sensitive method of detection is needed which Ortega’s laboratory is already working on.

“These two objectives are critical to implement monitoring and intervention strategies not only in the U.S. but also in endemic locations, with the ultimate goal of reducing the number of domestic cases of cyclosporiasis,” said Ortega.

UGA researchers join team of 100+ scientists to develop genetic tools for marine protists

Roberto Docampo
Docampo is Barbara and Sanford Orkin/GRA Eminent Scholar in Emerging Diseases and Cellular Biology and professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. (Photo by Billy Howard)

Roberto Docampo and colleagues at the University of Georgia’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases have joined with 53 other lab groups to develop tools to genetically manipulate marine protists, a microscopic single-cell organism that plays an important ecological role in marine ecosystems. Their results were recently published in Nature Methods.

Protists aid in sequestering carbon dioxide, serve as a food source for many organisms (including humans), and cause the toxic red tides that have plagued Florida beaches in recent years. However, little is known about their cellular biology or evolutionary history, and no model organisms exist for this group. Protists are a highly diverse collection of species, and the inability to genetically modify a large majority of them has been a major hurdle to their study. A few protists, such as some parasitic protists which have an impact on human or animal health,  have protocols, but they are not highly representative of the broader kingdom.

Funded by a $8 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, researchers for the first time were able to develop protocols for transfection, or the introduction of foreign DNA, and gene expression in 13 species. They were also able to build on the tools already developed for eight other species. While they could not develop a universal protocol for genetic transfection for all protists due to their vast diversity, they were able to provide what the researchers are calling a synthetic “Transformation Roadmap.”

Docampo collaborated with Virginia Edgcomb and her lab at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to develop genetic tools that would allow successful transfection of genes into Bodo saltans.

Bodo saltans is a unicellular organism found in marine and freshwater habitats. It belongs in the Discoba group which also includes the clinically significant parasitic protists Trypanosoma cruzi, Trypanosoma brucei, and Leishmania . Docampo and his team of researchers have been at the forefront of developing the genetic modification tool CRISPR/Cas9 for Trypanosoma cruzi, the causative agent of Chagas Disease.

“The development of tools to genetically modify [B. saltans] will be essential for the study of its biology and for the understanding of the evolution of the adaptions of trypanosomatids to parasitism,” said Docampo, Barbara and Sanford Orkin – GRA Eminent Scholar in Emerging Diseases and Cellular and professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of cellular biology.

B. saltans, like the other protists in this study, will serve as a model organism for related protists that may be difficult to culture in the laboratory or in which protocols are unsuccessful. This study is not only a step toward closing the knowledge gap in the biology and evolution of this diverse kingdom of organisms but will also aid in the advancement of protisan biotechnology. Marine protists are an untapped resource and their study could reveal mechanisms and drug therapies to treat human and animal diseases.


The study is available online: Faktorová, D., Nisbet, R.E.R., Fernández Robledo, J.A. et al. Genetic tool development in marine protists: emerging model organisms for experimental cell biology. Nat Methods (2020).

Global Schistosomiasis Alliance pays tribute to Dan Colley

Dan Colley
Dan Colley in his lab at UGA (photo credit: Andrew Tucker)


Dr. Daniel G. Colley, Director of the Schistosomiasis Consortium for Operational Research and Evaluation (SCORE), will be retiring from his position as Professor at the University of Georgia on June 30, 2020. He will continue as a Professor Emeritus. The Global Schistosomiasis Alliance has posted a tribute, including one of Dan’s famous poems, on their website.