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South Florida: NIH Funds Drug Discovery for Apicomplexan Parasites

Apicomplexan parasites control DNA replication differently than humans do and understanding these differences may be the key to preventing diseases such as malaria and toxoplasmosis, according to Dr. Elena Suvorova, USF researcher in the Center of Excellence in Drug Discovery and Innovation, and Department of Global Health.

She’s part of a USF College of Public Health research team who have been granted funding from the National Institutes of Health for the next five years to study the DNA licensing of apicomplexan parasites.

The team, led by Distinguished USF Health Professor Dr. Michael White of the department of global health, received a total of $2.5 million. They began research in June 2016 and will continue through May 2021.

[Drs. Elena Suvorova and Michael White. (Photo courtesy of USF Health Communications)]

Apicomplexa parasites are a phylum of obligatory intracellular parasites causing many important diseases including malaria and toxoplasmosis.

Malaria can be a severe, potentially fatal disease, particularly when caused by Plasmodium falciparum, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with an estimated 627,000 people dying due to infection in 2012.

Toxoplasmosis is considered to be a leading cause of death attributed to foodborne illness in the U.S., according to the CDC and is contracted from soil contaminated with cat feces, undercooked meat, and congenital transmission.

Dr. Suvorova said the overall goal of the research is to find new drugs targeting these infections.

“We’re trying to understand the general mechanisms that help parasites to divide,” Suvorova said. “We’re using the model system of Toxoplasma gondii, which is a close relative of the malaria parasite, Plasmodium spp.”

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