Vaccine Testing Center Cryptosporidum study team (from left): Beth Kirkpatrick, M.D., VTC director; Caroline Lyon, M.D.'02, M.P.H.; Christopher Huston, M.D.; Catherine Larsson; and Mary Claire Walsh, PA-C (Photo: Marian Miller)
Limited treatment options and no vaccines exist to treat or prevent a leading cause of severe diarrhea in infants and young children in the developing world: Cryptosporidium, a single-celled intestinal parasite found in soil, food and water that also causes significant illness and death in immunocompromised individuals. The infection it causes – called cryptosporidiosis or “Crypto” for short – has gained significant attention in the global public health realm and attracted funding to develop new antimicrobial agents to treat the parasitic infection, as well as assess vaccine feasibility.
Researchers from the University of Vermont (UVM)’s Vaccine Testing Center are preparing to test new therapeutic agents against Cryptosporidium. The team, including Caroline Lyon, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of medicine, Christopher Huston, M.D., associate professor of medicine, and Beth Kirkpatrick, M.D., professor of medicine, will design a research platform upon which new treatments for Crypto can be tested in humans under a $3.3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to UVM. The work is scheduled to be performed over three and a half years.
“Diarrheal illness caused by Cryptosporidium, and the long term consequences of this illness has been underappreciated in children in the developing world,” notes Huston. “Fortunately, recent large scale international studies have brought this problem to the attention of the public health community.”
UVM has extensive expertise studying Cryptosporidium. Huston and Kirkpatrick, along with John Barlow, D.V.M., Ph.D., UVM professor of animal sciences, have studied the pathogenic potential and immunology of Cryptosporidium for more than 15 years.
“Dr. Huston’s novel high-throughput drug-testing methods have been a major advance in the development of new drugs against Cryptosporidium,” says Kirkpatrick. “This new award brings us closer to testing the effectiveness of these drugs in humans.”
Lyon will provide the clinical expertise in carrying out the clinical trials of Cryptosporidium and the new therapeutics.
“The opportunity to combine our laboratory innovation and clinical expertise to address such a globally important need is truly exciting for us and the university,” Lyon says.
Sean Diehl, Ph.D., UVM assistant professor of medicine, will also provide immunology expertise on the project. In addition, at a second research site at the University of Maryland’s (UMD) Center for Vaccine Development, co-investigators Wilbur Chen, M.D., and Myron Levine, M.D., will concurrently perform similar work focused on determining the feasibility of vaccine development. Saul Tzipori, D.V.M., Ph.D., of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, will work with both teams. His extensive expertise in Cryptosporidium, including unique methods for organism propagation, will be used by the researchers at both UVM and UMD.
For more information about the clinical trial at UVM, contact 802-656-0013.
(The Vaccine Testing Center's Megan Barnes contributed to this article.)