Dr. Isabelle Coppens, a professor in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s department of molecular microbiology and immunology, has received a $1.25 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study the pathogenesis of the cyst forms of the human parasite Toxoplasma gondii in the brain.
Toxoplasma gondii is an opportunistic protozoan parasite that poses a significant risk to AIDS/HIV patients. At present, there are no vaccines for T. gondii, and the currently available drugs have significant adverse effects. Since there is no drug regimen to cure chronic infections caused by the cyst forms in the brain, heart and muscles. a constant stream of new drugs based on the identification of novel drug targets is required to offer long-term protection. Toxoplasma is an obligate intracellular parasite that multiplies in mammalian cells within a parasitophorous vacuole. This parasite relies on host metabolites to survive. How the cysts acquire their nutrients through the cyst wall has been an intriguing question in the field.
Dr. Coppens’ team will seek to unravel the uncharted mechanisms by which cyst forms secure essential lipids from brain cells, with the intent to open new avenues for therapeutic interventions based on restricting the parasite’s access to major host lipid sources and blocking lipid storage pathways in Toxoplasma.
Dr. Coppens is a member of the editorial board on the journals PLoS Pathogens and Journal of Biological Chemistry.