Seattle Biomedical Research Institute307 Westlake Ave. N., Suite 500Seattle, WA 98109-5219
Among different disease agents, parasites are the most similar to their human hosts. This has made the search for drugs and vaccines highly challenging. Scientists in Dr. Parsons’ laboratory are interested in identifying differences in cell structure and function between parasites and humans.
The lab studies several parasites including Trypanosoma brucei (African trypanosomes), Leishmania, and Toxoplasma gondii. These pathogens are the causative agents of African sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis, and toxoplasmosis, respectively. Left untreated, sleeping sickness is invariably fatal. The World Health Organization estimates that 12 million people are infected with Leishmania parasites, although some show no signs of disease. Co-infection with HIV however, leads to severe, often fatal, leishmaniasis. T. gondii infects approximately 50 million Americans, and causes disease in the immunocompromised. It also is a significant cause of birth defects if the mother becomes infected early in pregnancy.
Dr. Parsons’ interest in these parasites stems from both an interest in their role as important pathogens worldwide and in their basic biology as evolutionarily divergent eukaryotes. Her long-term goal is to identify differences between host and parasite that would be appropriate targets for drug development. Currently, Dr. Parsons’ two focal areas of research are protein phosphorylation and organelle biogenesis and function in parasitic protozoa. Her lab uses technologies ranging from fluorescence microscopy to yeast two-hybrid interaction screens to molecular genetics to study the functional attributes of these processes.
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