UTEP Researcher Awarded $2.2 Million to Study Parasite that Sickens Millions
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded a $2.2 million grant Tuesday, June 28, to a researcher at The University of Texas at El Paso to battle a parasite that sickens humans around the world.
Sid Das, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences, said the focus of the five-year grant will be to learn as much as possible about the special molecules that protect the Giardia lamblia parasite that lodges in a person’s small intestine and creates abdominal discomfort.
“I want to find the right target that will disrupt the protective cyst formation cycle and allow for the development of new drugs that can kill the organism,” Das said.
The parasite is found around the world both in developing and developed countries, including areas along the U.S.-Mexico border. It is ingested through drinking water that is not properly purified, fruits or vegetables that are not properly washed, or in lakes and streams where sanitation conditions are poor.
Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that in developing countries, nearly 2 percent of adults and as many as 8 percent of children can be infected at any one time, and about 33 percent of the population in those countries will have had this parasite in their lifetimes.
That makes his research very timely, said Robert Kirken, Ph.D., professor and chair of UTEP’s Department of Biological Sciences.
“His work is important because currently used drugs in the treatment of this parasite produce many unpleasant side effects and ultimately lead to drug-resistant parasites that are even harder to eradicate,” Kirken said.
Das, who has studied Giardia for 16 years, applied for the NIH Research Project Grant (R01) in October 2010. The highly competitive award is the institute’s oldest grant mechanism and provides support for its health-related research and development mission. Das will be assisted by a postdoctoral student, a graduate student and a technician.
The grant award reflects the ability of UTEP faculty to compete at the national level, said Roberto Osegueda, Ph.D., the University’s vice president for research.
“The University is very appreciative of the effort of Dr. Das in securing this award and of the opportunities this award will bring to employ students to perform the research.”