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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 11/15/00
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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Researchers Investigate AIDS-related Pathogen

Cincinnati--Melanie T. Cushion, PhD, associate professor, University of Cincinnati (UC) Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, together with George Smulian, MD, Internal Medicine, and James Stringer, PhD, Department of Molecular Genetics, is leading an international, multiple-center research project to develop new drug targets for a major AIDS-related pathogen, Pneumocystis carinii.

"The Pneumocystis Genome Project" is a $2,889,682 grant funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The five-year genomics-related research grant will complement the UC Medical Center's new core facilities for genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics. Scientific evidence indicates that Pneumocystis appears to exist in mammals with intact immune systems, but without indication of clinical symptoms. However, once the host immune system becomes suppressed by a viral infection, such as HIV, or drug therapy to prevent organ rejection, these organisms are able to grow and fill the lungs and are likely to cause lethal pneumonia. Pneumocystis cannot survive outside the mammalian lung for any length of time, so little is understood about its life cycle.

"We hope to better understand this pathogen's basic biology by looking at its genetic makeup and how it infects the mammalian host," Cushion said. "We also hope to understand why it won't grow outside the lung, and if there is something we can add to an artificial medium that will permit it to do so." By knowing all of its genes and metabolic pathways, researchers can design novel drugs for therapy and treatment.

"Only two drugs are highly effective against Pneumocystis pneumonia," she said. "Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole and pentamidine, and each has serious side effects. Moreover, there is increasing evidence that Pneumocystis is becoming resistant to both, as well as other secondary therapies."

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