Patent granted for toxoplasmosis research

  • April 29, 2014
Patent granted for toxoplasmosis research

Bo Shiun Lai and his research colleagues have been granted a patent by the US authorities to develop a treatement for toxoplasmosis.

A Gates Cambridge Scholar and his team have been granted a patent by the US authorities to develop a treatement for toxoplasmosis.

Bo Shiun Lai [2013] and colleagues submitted a patent application around a year and a half ago when Bo Shiun was still doing his undergraduate degree at the Univesity of Chicago and have just been awarded a US patent. He is continuing his research at the University of Cambridge, where he is doing a PhD in Pathology.

Toxoplasmosis is a parasite which is hosted by two billion people worldwide, mostly without any visible symptoms. However, if their immune system is suppressed, for instance, if they are newborn or have HIV, it can cause serious problems. In newborns it can cause ocular impairment or brain defects and brain inflammation caused by toxoplasmosis is a major cause of death in people with HIV. It is relatively rare among newborns and has been considered a neglected disease, but since 9/11, it has been classified as a bioterror agent by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) which led to increased interest until the financial meltdown.

Toxoplasmosis takes two forms: active and dormant. When it is dormant the parasite wraps itself in a thick layer of lipid which makes it impervious to all drug treatment and impossible to eradicate. Bo Shiun’s research into toxoplasmosis focuses on two main challenges: how to deliver drugs across the lipid barrier and what specific molecular pathways to inhibit. As toxoplasmosis mainly resides in the eyes and brain, treatment has to cross the ocular membrane or enter the brain.

His work prior to arriving at Cambridge in 2013 was focused on the first challenge, attempting to create a molecule that could have an inhibitory effect on the parasite and deliver medication across multiple membranes. At Cambridge, he has been targeting the second challenge – how to switch the parasite from dormant to active mode, making it susceptible to existing treatment, or shut off essential pathways, killing the parasite effectively.

He says: “This approach is a breakthrough because it allows us to deliver drugs across numerous layers of obstacles, arrive at the intended target (ideally essential for parasite survival or replication), and abrogate parasite growth. The patent is promising for delivering inhibitory molecules into both active and dormant parasites.”

The researchers found that their original model had a small therapeutic range in which it could be both effective and non toxic. They believe the toxicity originates from the transductive peptides which help deliver the drugs across the lipid barrier to the parasite and have been trying to reduce it. So far they have expanded the therapeutic range by about four times. Bo Shiun says: “This means we can increase the dosage dramatically without observable toxicity.”

Bo Shiun’s work has seen him nominated for the Cozzarelli Prize, a national award for scientific excellence in a particular scientific discipline and three of his articles were accepted for publication in peer review journals before he finished his undergraduate degree.

Latest News

Shaping policy and Alzheimer’s research

Just six years since leaving Cambridge, Brianne Kent has secured a role as Assistant Professor, won multiple awards,  become the first early career researcher on the Governing Council of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research [CIHR] and is currently setting up her own laboratory to further her studies on Alzheimer’s disease. Since January, when she […]

Ed-tech wins Gates Foundation funding for access work

An ed-tech non-profit co-founded by a Gates Cambridge Scholar has received a $980,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop its free college affordability tool. Moneythink, co-founded by Greg Nance who is also its Board Chair, says the money will help it to accelerate the development and reach of DecidED, its free […]

Gates Cambridge: a purposeful community

As the Gates Cambridge Scholarship reaches the end of its 20th anniversary year, its alumni association is holding an event late this month which celebrates some of the factors that have shaped the scholar community. That sense of community, of a global network of leaders, developed and owned by the scholars and alumni themselves, is […]

Fibre optic project aims to improve Sri Lanka’s infrastructure

A Gates Cambridge Alumnus has formed a partnership between his university, Cambridge and Oxford universities and a local engineering company to introduce a cutting-edge technology to Sri Lanka. A team of researchers and industry experts from the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka, the Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC), the University of […]