University of Georgia researcher Rick Tarleton has been elected as a 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellow by the AAAS Council “for distinguished contributions to the field of biological sciences, particularly for his research contributions and leadership to control Chagas Disease.”
Tarleton is a Regents Professor in the Department of Cellular Biology and UGA Athletic Association Distinguished Professor in Biological Sciences.
“It is indeed an honor to be acknowledged in this way – it reflects the strong efforts of many past and present members of the lab,” stated Tarleton, founder of the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases.
Since his undergraduate days, Tarleton’s research has focused on Trypanosoma cruzi infection, which causes the potentially fatal illness Chagas Disease. Historically, Tarleton’s research has attempted to answer broad questions such as how is immune control initiated and maintained during the infection, how does T. cruzi manage to avoid immune clearance and maintain an infection of decades in host, and what is the relationship between immunity, parasite persistence, and disease development. In an effort to answer these questions and more, Tarleton’s research group has developed tools to better study T. cruzi. They pioneered the use of the gene editing tool CRISPR in T. cruzi. Recently, they applied light sheet fluorescent microscopy to view infection in whole mouse organs. The Tarleton Research Group is also actively pursuing drug discovery for T. cruzi infection in a number of animal models including rodent, dog, and nonhuman primates. Their recent discovery of a dormancy stage in T. cruzi infections has revolutionized their drug treatment research, bringing them one step closer to finding a cure for this infection that affects at least 6 million people.
Tarleton’s work has largely been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Wellcome Trust, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and partnerships with several pharmaceutical groups.
In addition to establishing the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases at UGA, he has been instrumental in organizing the Chagas Drug Discovery Consortium, which brings together U.S.-based laboratories with international groups. Tarleton is also the founder and current president of The Chagas Disease Foundation. He has been honored with a number of awards, including the Lamar Dodd Outstanding Researcher Award and being named a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Scholar in Molecular Parasitology. In 2017, he was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.
“Rick’s election as a Fellow of AAAS is recognition of his immense contributions to the study of T. cruzi,” said Dennis Kyle, director of the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases. “His research has advanced our understanding of immune response to the pathogen, has developed new molecular approaches to study the parasite, and has accelerated drug discovery for Chagas Disease.”