Just announced by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sumiti Vinayak, an assistant research scientist in Boris Striepen’s laboratory, has been awarded a Grand Challenges Explorations Grant to develop a tool to study the function of essential genes in Cryptosporidium.
Cryptosporidium is the second leading cause of life-threatening diarrhea and developmental stunting in young children worldwide. The only FDA-approved drug treatment, Nitazoxanide, has limited effectiveness and in young children or immunocompromised patients, there is little to no relief provided by the medication.
Cryptosporidium is difficult to study in the laboratory which has limited the search for better treatment of the disease. The Striepen laboratory has been successful in transforming Cryptosporidium into a genetically modifiable organism and, thus, removing a major hurdle to drug discovery.
“Currently, there are no tools available for Cryptosporidium to conditionally regulate gene or protein function and determine their role in the parasite,” said Vinayak. “The goal of this project is to develop a powerful conditional protein degradation tool that will allow us to obtain data on the biological function of essential proteins in Cryptosporidium parvum and accelerate the drug discovery process.”
In this project, Vinayak will build on her molecular genetics work to develop a tool that will allow assessment of genes essential for parasite survival. The tool developed in this project will use a plant photoreactive protein and blue light to shut off the expression of a specific, targeted protein in the parasite.
This tool will make the validation of drug targets possible in Cryptosporidium, a key next step in the discovery of better treatment for a disease that results in an estimated 748,000 cases each year in the United States alone.
About Grand Challenges Explorations
Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, over 1228 projects in more than 65 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of US$100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.