A Clemson University professor has won a $369,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the parasitic disease African sleeping sickness.
Meredith Morris, an associate professor in the university’s department of genetics and biochemistry, will concentrate on African trypanosomes, a protozoan parasite that causes African sleeping sickness. That parasite moves from its carrier, the tsetse fly, to humans when they are bitten by the fly.
A sign of sleeping sickness includes an itchy and painful reaction where the bite occurred, and symptoms such as headache, fatigue and joint pain.
The disease is curable with medication but fatal if not treated.
Morris also serves as a faculty member for the Eukaryotic Pathogens Innovation Center (EPIC). The center, founded in 2013, houses interdisciplinary biomedical research. The research conducted in the center focuses on, as the name states, eukaryotic pathogens. These causative agents are behind human diseases including malaria, amoebic dysentery, sleeping sickness, Chagas disease and fungal meningitis.
Her research is “identifying basic cellular processes that the parasite uses to live, and to identify ways in which its cellular machinery is different from ours,” Morris said in a release. To do that, she looks at the parasite’s glycosomes, which are only found in these creatures. The grant will allow Morris to examine how glycosomes form and what their exact function is to the parasite.
“When people usually think of these parasites, they think of them as having these little polka dots inside them, and they’re all red, and they’re all the same. These are glycosomes, and what we’re realizing is that they’re not all the same,” said Morris. “What we now know is that if you look at a parasite, instead of having all these red polka dots, you have some red polka dots, some blue polka dots, some green polka dots, and each of those compartments has a different composition and maybe a different function.”
“What we’re trying to do is figure out how the cell sets up that landscape and how it changes the landscape throughout its life cycle,” Morris said.