Scientists converge at Clemson to learn more about pathogens that threaten millions worldwide

The fight against diseases responsible for millions of deaths around the world brought to Clemson University scientists who are focused on understanding the cell biology of eukaryotic pathogens in hopes of developing better treatments for these neglected diseases.

These pathogens are responsible for an array of deadly diseases, including malaria, amoebic dysentery, sleeping sickness, Chagas disease and fungal meningitis. While more common in underdeveloped nations, these diseases are becoming greater risks in the U.S. and elsewhere because of globalization.

Scientists from throughout the Southeast attended the fourth annual Cellular Biology of Eukaryotic Pathogens symposium at Clemson’s Watt Family Innovation Center Nov. 17-18.

“I get research ideas all the time just by sitting in and listening to all of these talks,” said Kerry Smith, a professor in the genetics and biochemistry departmentand director of Clemson’s Eukaryotic Pathogens Innovations Center (EPIC).

Scientists from Clemson, the University of Georgia and Meharry Medical College in Nashville gave oral presentations at the conference. Students and researchers attended from Virginia Tech, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Emory University, among other institutions. Representatives of these institutions presented research posters. Past symposiums have attracted representatives of the National Institutes of Health, Duke University and Georgetown University, as well.

“The meeting continues to grow and reach students and faculty from different institutions each year,” said Meredith Morris, event organizer and assistant professor of genetics and biochemistry. “This really is a great opportunity both for students, who get the experience of presenting and having their work critiqued, and for faculty, who share ideas and information that can help advance their research.”

Keynote speaker Dr. Damian Krysan, associate chair of basic research at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, stressed the importance of drug discovery in university labs as rising costs have made such research prohibitive to private pharmaceutical companies.

“Some sobering statistics indicate that by the year 2050 or 2070, there might not be new drugs discovered because of the costs of litigation, development and the protocols for the testing that must be done on the drugs,” Smith said. “One of the messages that Dr. Krysan had was that academic research can really step up and be a key player in drug discovery.”

Smith, whose research focuses on the fungal pathogen Cryptococcus, said the last effective drug for fungal disease was developed more than 30 years ago.

Scientists at EPIC also research parasitic pathogens. The symposium brings together those scientists who don’t often mingle — those who study parasites and those focused on fungi — to share research results, Smith said.

The symposium also offers opportunities for students to present their research and discuss with experts. Joseph T. Smith Jr., a Ph.D. candidate at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, presented his research on potential control mechanisms for the parasite that causes African sleeping sickness.

“For me, it was confirmation that I’m ready,” Joseph Smith said of the opportunity to give his first academic talk. “The reason I came to this particular conference is because I knew at Clemson they have people who work on malaria, people who work on T. (Trypanosoma) brucei, people who work on bacteria. They’re going to have different perspectives because their research is more diverse. To me, this is what science is supposed to be. We’re all collaborating.”

Presenters from Clemson included postdoctoral researchers Satyanarayana Lagishetty and Jimmy Suryadi; graduate students Piotr Stempinski, Thanh Dang, Heeren Gordhan and Logan Crowe; and research associate Jillian Milanes. Students also presented research posters at the symposium.

The Cellular Biology of Eukaryotic Pathogens symposium is organized by EPIC and EPIC Scholars, an organization of graduate and undergraduate students. The meeting received funding support from the National Institutes of Health and Pearson, a provider of educational material.

*This article was originally posted on the Clemson Newsstand. Read the full story here.*