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Boston College researcher looks to stop a deadly parasite in its tracks
Date:12/10/2012

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"We're trying to find out how this parasite gets in or out of a cell," said Gubbels. "Cells in our bodies don't invade other cells, but Toxoplasma gondii cells have dedicated machinery to do that. We have a basic understanding of this, but we don't know how it all fits together or is controlled. If we can understand that process, we can design drugs that can counteract that and hopefully save lives."

Toxoplasma gondii is carried by almost every warm-blooded animal and is spread through ingesting cysts present in undercooked meat or in cat feces. An intra-cellular parasite that lives within the cells of its host, the parasite must first enter a cell and then, after consuming its contents, exit the cell. Gubbels and researchers in his lab are looking for ways to control entry and exit by turning off genes that inform the parasite's mobility.

Invasion and egress share many features, Gubbels added. But they are poorly understood at the molecular level. In addition, current anti-toxoplasmosis drugs do not target either invasion or egress.

The Gubbels research team will take normal strains of the parasite and then create gene mutations within them. After singling out the altered parasites, researchers will determine whether the genes involved play a role in the parasite's entrance to or exit from a host cell. Gubbels said the goal is to find proteins with essential functions in a defining pathogenic process not targeted by current drugs.

"The overarching goal of our work is to increase the number of treatment options for toxoplasmosis, in particular to develop drugs with fewer side effects," Gubbels said. "The best drug targets are found in biological processes that the parasite does not share with the host. The process we are interested in is the process of how the parasite gains access to the cells of the host, and subsequently, how it is able to escape from the host cell upon completion of replication."


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Contact: Ed Hayward
ed.hayward@bc.edu
617-552-4826
Boston College
Source:Eurekalert

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