Boris Striepen, a cellular biologist who studies AIDS-associated parasites, has been named a Georgia Research Alliance Distinguished Investigator. His appointment is part of a GRA initiative to recruit, retain and support top scientists who conduct research in next-generation vaccines and therapeutics.
Working in the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases, Striepen focuses on the apicomplexan parasites Toxoplasma and Cryptosporidium, two important infectious disease agents found around the world, including the U.S. These parasites can cause severe disease in infants, small children and individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those suffering from AIDS. The Striepen laboratory uses modern genetic approaches to investigate the unique biology of these parasites in an effort to identify specific targets for intervention.
Striepen said some of the world’s most dangerous parasites surprisingly appear to have had a benign past as photosynthetic algae in the ocean. This group includes the parasites he studies, but also those that cause malaria and a number of other human and animal diseases.
“Recent findings suggest that Apicomplexa share their ancestry with kelps-and earlier in their evolution acquired a red algal symbiont,” he said.
Striepen and his team study this symbiont, which survives today as a chloroplast-like organelle, the apicoplast. Because humans lack chloroplasts, the apicoplast is a prime target for development of parasite-specific drugs.
“Boris has been instrumental in developing UGA’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases into one of the world’s premier centers for the study of parasitic diseases of humans,” said Rick Tarleton, a Distinguished Research Professor in the department of cellular biology. “His insights into the metabolism and basic cell biology of apicomplexan parasites that kill millions of people each year are translational and will lead to the development of new drugs. The GRA could not have chosen a more deserving candidate for this honor.”
Striepen has made several discoveries at UGA, including the finding that the parasite Cryptosporidium uses bacterial mechanisms to generate its DNA building blocks. He also described important functions of the parasite chloroplast in Toxoplasma.