USF awarded NIH grant to find new treatments for fatal infections caused by pathogenic free-living amoeba

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Among the microbes targeted is the brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri

University of South Florida College of Public Health researchers were recently awarded a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to identify optimal drug candidates that could ultimately lead to a fast-acting treatment for rare but deadly infections caused by microscopic free-living amoeba (FLA) commonly found in warm freshwater lakes and rivers and in soil. The $425,000 award from the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is for the first two years of a five-year funding period, which could total $1.7 million over five years.

“Our ultimate goal for this project is to develop at least one new fast-acting drug that could be combined with existing therapies to significantly increase survival rates of patients who contract FLA infections of the central nervous system,” said principal investigator Dennis Kyle, PhD, a distinguished USF Health professor in the Department of Global Health, USF College of Public Health.

Dennis Kyle, PhD, distinguished USF Health professor, with research team members Christopher Rice, PhD, and Beatrice Colon, PhD candidate.

Dennis Kyle, PhD, distinguished USF Health professor, with research team members Christopher Rice, PhD, and Beatrice Colon, PhD candidate.

Dr. Kyle’s team will work with David Boykin, PhD, professor of chemistry at Georgia State University, who makes the antimicrobial compounds that USF is developing.

The new grant will build upon previous NIH-funded work by the USF researchers, who have already zeroed in on two new chemical compounds 500 times more potent than existing drugs used to combat the almost always fatal infection caused by the brain-eating amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri.  The new study will expand the screening and development of the most promising drug candidates to target Acanthamoeba spp, as well as Naegleria fowleri.

Naegleria fowleri causes primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a rare disease that kills more than 97 percent of its victims within days. PAM is usually contracted by healthy children and young adults who engaged in swimming, diving or other water activities that may forcefully push contaminated water up the nose.  Once in the nose, the amoeba moves quickly to the brain where the infection destroys brain tissue.

Excerpts from USF Health News. Read the full story here.

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