Pharmacy Professors, Students Win NIH Grant to Study a Neglected Tropical Disease

Sigrid Roberts and Nicola Carter, professors in the Pacific University School of Pharmacy, have been awarded a competitive, three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to research treatment for a neglected tropical disease called leishmaniasis.

The $376,572 award will fund the work by Roberts, the principal investigator and associate dean for Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Carter, the co-investigator, as well as a group of graduate and undergraduate students, into cellular processes that enable the survival and proliferation of the parasite that transmits the disease.

Leishmaniasis is a disease that affects about 12 million people at any given time. From 1.5 million to 2 million new cases are diagnosed each year. The disease, which occurs mostly in tropical and subtropical regions, is transmitted by sand flies, whose bites can introduce a parasite that can cause sores and ulcers, or, depending on the type of infection, affect such internal organs as the spleen and liver.

Roberts said she was relieved and excited by the news of the award. “Getting the final official notice of award was a big relief,” she said. “It also pays to be persistent; I have learned a lot about grant craftsmanship from previous attempts and feedback.”

In addition to Roberts and Carter, the research team includes Postdoctoral Fellow Samira Elikaee, Research Assistant Jon Taylor, and will involve graduate and undergraduate pharmacy students, Roberts said. 

The research will focus on the way enzymes, proteins and parasite strains enable the parasites to thrive, and could lead to the development of more effective treatments for the disease.

As the grant application explains, “a better understanding of parasite biology is urgently needed for the development of new therapeutic strategies against the neglected tropical disease leishmaniasis. Recent studies have highlighted the polyamine biosynthetic pathway as a potential therapeutic target. The objective of this proposal is to elucidate the functions of the essential polyamine putrescine for parasite proliferation and survival.”




Friday, Jan. 8, 2021