Cryptosporidiosis is a self-limiting disease in immunocompetent patients but Cryptosporidium is the second leading cause of moderate to severe diarrhoea in children and a significant contributor to childhood mortality and morbidity. Diarrheal disease is responsible for 10% of the deaths of children under the age of five worldwide. Chronic cryptosporidiosis and concomitant malnutrition during the first two years of life are strongly correlated with growth stunting, vaccination failure, cognitive impairment, significant decreases in earning potential, and obesity as an adult. There is no vaccine and the only available drug provides no benefit to young children and immunocompromised patients—those most in need of therapeutics. An improved understanding of Cryptosporidium biology will present opportunities to identify new targets for transmission limiting vaccines, therapeutics and interventions.
Significant challenges in working with Cryptosporidium previously stalled basic research and drug discovery, and include a lack of continuous culture, poor animal models, primitive understanding of parasite biology, and lack of genetic tools. As postdoc in Boris Striepen’s lab, I was part of the group that developed genetic tools for stable transgenesis of Cryptosporidium (Vinayak*, Pawlowic*, Sateriale* et al Nature 2015 *equal contribution) and established a robust system for the laboratory propagation of genetically modified strains (Pawlowic et al Curr Prot Microbio 2017).
In the Pawlowic lab we will use these new genetic tools to study the biology of this important parasite. Insight into how the parasite grows and is transmitted to new patients will help us identify new ways to stop the disease. We will collaborate with the Drug Discovery Unit at the University of Dundee to develop new therapeutics for cryptosporidiosis.