The microscopic parasite Giardia can be found within Idaho, every region of the U.S. and around the world.
While in the U.S., symptoms seldom advance beyond extreme discomfort, in developing countries, Giardia can cause dehydration and other serious complications in infants and children – even fatality. For this reason, researchers long have worked toward improving treatment methods for the infection.
Boise State researcher Dr. Ken Cornell counts himself among these researchers. Cornell, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and his collaborator Dr. John Thurston, an associate professor of chemistry at the College of Idaho, recently were awarded a three-year, $418,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop and test new anti-parasitic drugs to fight Giardia infections.
Thurston, a synthetic chemist, will formulate new drugs while Cornell and his team will examine how well the drugs work against the target enzyme and how well they work against cultures of parasites.
Cornell credits his career-long interest in parasitic research to his work as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1980s.
“I worked at a bush school in Kenya and a lot of my students were routinely sick from parasitic diseases,” he said. “Many had reoccurring diarrhea, which often were due to Giardia or amoebas, and the drugs to treat them were not readily available or were too expensive. In young kids, the diarrheal diseases caused by viruses, bacteria and parasites were a common cause of infant mortality by dehydration.”
Cornell’s project is ideal for training students who will become the next generation of biomolecular researchers.
“These projects are really amenable to training undergraduates, as the parasites we’re studying are easy to grow and not terribly dangerous under the conditions we’re using,” Cornell said.