Clemson professor receives grant to seek a cure for a leading cause of death in children under 5

Lesly Temesvari, an Alumni Distinguished Professor and Fulbright Scholar in Clemson University’s biological sciences department, has been awarded a two-year, $290,400 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Temesvari will use the grant to continue her research with the human pathogen Entamoeba histolyica — a parasite and the cause of amoebic dysentery. She will collaborate on the grant with William J. Sullivan of the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

According to the World Health Organization, there are nearly 1.7 billion cases of diarrhoeal disease every year in the world. Diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under 5, killing around 760,000 children every year. Amoebic dysentery is prevalent in developing countries with substandard sanitation.

Lesly Temesvari (right), Alumni Distinguished Professor in biological sciences, and Matt Hapstack, graduate student in biological sciences.
Lesly Temesvari (right), Alumni Distinguished Professor in biological sciences, and Matt Hapstack, graduate student in biological sciences.
The goal of Temesvari’s research is to understand the cellular biology and life cycle of the parasite to develop drug therapies or a vaccine that will affect the parasite and not the host.

Understanding the life cycle of the parasite will enable Temesvari to identify a vulnerability or uncover a target, such as a unique protein, that may lead to a cure.

Temesvari’s research will use state-of-the-art molecular and cellular biology approaches in an attempt to discover what prompts the conversion from the amoeba to the cyst stage in the human body. The cues that trigger the transformation from amoeba to cyst are unknown.

“Humans are infected when they ingest the parasite in a cyst form, usually from food or water contaminated with human fecal matter, or from human-to-human contact,” said Temesvari. “The cyst stage is the infective form. It both causes the disease and passes it on.

“During infection in the human host, the parasite likely confronts stress brought on by the host environment and immune response. To survive and cause infection, the parasite must circumvent these external pressures by transforming from cyst to amoeba and back to cyst. Thus, it may be useful to interrupt the pathogen’s stress response in order to develop drug therapies.”

Drugs and vaccines are only part of the challenge to eradicate amoebic dysentery.

“Improving sanitation and eliminating unsanitary conditions would prevent the spread of this disease,” said Temesvari.

“Science can inform the need for sanitation and public health education that will help address this very serious global health problem,” she said.

Temesvari has been supported by the National Institutes of Health nearly continuously for 16 years. Her research began investigating the interaction of the parasite with the host. Her latest research will be exploring the cyst formation stage as a stress response.

Temesvari’s research also furthers the primary mission of Clemson’s Eukaryotic Pathogen Innovation Center (EPIC) to conduct research leading to cures for some of the world’s most devastating and intractable infectious diseases, including malaria, dysentery, sleeping sickness, toxoplasmosis and fungal meningitis.