LEXINGTON, KY (Sept. 21, 1998) - Salvatore Turco, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, has received a five-year extension on a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) award. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH has awarded Turco $1,583,700 to continue his study, "Glycoconjugates of Leishmania."
Leishmania donovani, a one-cell parasite, is one of the world's major pathogens. It afflicts 10 to 20 million people in Mediterranean and Third World countries. The parasite is transmitted by sand flies and results in the disease called leishmaniasis. Leishmaniasis, which often results in death, is a problem for residents, travelers, and U.S. soldiers stationed in the Middle East. It was a particular issue during Desert Storm, Turco said. Symptoms include sores, high fever and severe disfigurement. There are only antiquated drugs used for cures and preventive measures, despite scientists' understanding of the biology of the parasite's attack on the human body.
"We are trying to determine how the parasite survives in the human host," Turco said. "We suspect there is something unusual about the Leishmania cell surface that we feel is responsible for the parasite to invade the body and survive with impunity."
Leishmania's cell surface contains a complex molecule made up of sugar, fat and phosphate, called a lipophosphoglycan, that is used for defensive purposes. The molecule prevents the host animal's white cells, called macrophages, from being activated and attacking the parasite. Without the lipophosphoglycan, the parasite is destroyed by macrophages.
Researchers hope that the molecule might play a key role in creating treatments or preventive therapies for leishmaniasis.