Very big news out of cellular biology and the Striepen lab in the fight against a parasite known as a major cause of suffering throughout the developing world:
Researchers at the University of Georgia have developed new tools to study and genetically manipulate cryptosporidium, a microscopic parasite that causes the diarrheal disease cryptosporidiosis. Their discoveries, published in the journal Nature, will ultimately help researchers in academia and industry find new treatments and vaccines for cryptosporidium, which is a major cause of disease and death in children under 2 years old.
Crypto, as researchers often call it, is most commonly spread through tainted drinking or recreational water. When a person drinks contaminated water, parasites emerge from spores and invade the lining of the small intestine, causing severe diarrhea. In 1993, more than 400,000 people living in the Milwaukee area were infected with crypto when one of the city's water treatment systems malfunctioned.
"One of the biggest obstacles with crypto is that it is very difficult to study in the lab, and that has made scientists and funders shy away from studying the parasite," said Boris Striepen, co-author of the paper and Distinguished Research Professor of Cellular Biology in UGA's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "We think that the techniques reported in this paper will open the doors for discovery in crypto research, and that will, in turn, lead to new and urgently needed therapeutics."
Congratulations to Dr. Striepen and his team on this extraordinary, and extraordinarily painstaking, work. As the Nature article documents, crypto is almost impossible to work with; doing so relies both on the fundamental tools of molecular biology, leading-edge technology and recent developments in bioinformatics in organizing the vast libaries of chemicals that could be used to treat the disease. This research is a marvelous integration of all three plus Striepen's confidence to pursue ambitious science. And what a payoff: a significant contribtion that will affect the lives of millions.
Image: Boris Striepen, courtesy of UGA photo services.