IU School of Medicine researcher William Sullivan, Ph.D., has been awarded a $1.9 million grant by the National Institute of Health to study Toxoplasma, a dangerous parasite that infects approximately 60 million people in the US every year.
The parasite is able to transform itself into a latent cyst and avoid being attacked by the immune system, often causing chronic infection. Most people with a Toxoplasma infection experience flu-like symptoms or no symptoms at all. People with immune deficiencies, however, can experience more serious effects such as lung problems, blindness and seizures.
One way people can become infected by Toxoplasma is via cat litter or feces. Eating undercooked meat from infected animals can also cause human infection.
The newly awarded five year grant will allow Dr. Sullivan and his research team to build on work they have already done for more than a decade, attempting to discover how the parasites are able to turn genes on and off. By understanding how Toxoplasma genetic activity is controlled, they hope to develop new potential drugs to combat it.
Toxoplasma is also used as a model organism for the malaria parasite Plasmodium, meaning research could also lead to new treatments for malaria which affected approximately 207 million people worldwide in 2012 and caused an estimated 627,000 deaths.
Source: IU School of Medicine