Save children from dangerous infections with an amoeba

The Hartwell Foundation will provide University of Virginia School of Medicine researcher Shannon Moonah, MD, with $100,000 annually for three years to support her efforts to use an amoeba to deliver antibodies to prevent and treat life-threatening C. difficile infections in young children. Credit: Dan Addison

The University of Virginia School of Medicine’s groundbreaking efforts to use a harmless amoeba to protect children from dangerous infections has won critical financial support from the Hartwell Foundation.

The Hartwell Foundation, which supports cutting-edge, early-stage biomedical research to benefit children in the United States, will provide UVA researcher Shannon Moonah, MD, with $100,000 per year for three years. The funds will support his efforts to create an amoeba, a single-celled organism, to deliver antibodies that can prevent and treat life-threatening diseases. It’s hard infections in young children.

“New options are needed to It’s hard-there is no vaccine to protect children at risk and treatments for serious illnesses are suboptimal. Cell therapies like amoeba hold the promise of safe and effective drug delivery systems,” said Moonah, a physician-scientist in UVA’s Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health.

It’s hard strikes 24,000 children in the United States each year, and many more around the world. The number of cases in the United States is increasing, prompting the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to classify It’s hard as an immediate threat to public health that requires aggressive action. The infection causes severe diarrhea and is especially dangerous for children with health conditions such as cancer, bowel disease and cystic fibrosis.

It’s hard infections are usually treated with antibiotics, but children who get the infections tender suffer repeated episodes. For some, it may become incurable, requiring removal of the large intestine to avoid death.

Moonah, however, aims to prevent children from becoming so terribly ill. It would do this by genetically modifying a single-celled amoeba often found in the gut called “Entamoeba.” Entamoeba is a parasite, but Moonah aims to use gene editing to make her a powerful ally against It’s hard.

Moonah plans to introduce a harmless form of Entamoeba into the gut to directly deliver specific antibodies to inhibit harmful toxins produced by It’s hard. If his innovation works, it would be the first time an amoeba or other protozoan has been genetically engineered to deliver treatment in this way.

Ultimately, Moonah aims to turn its “protozoan technology and drug delivery system” into a platform used regularly to deliver a wide range of drugs to combat intestinal issues in young children. The strategy could offer many benefits, he says, including reducing antibiotic use in the face of the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

“If successful, there will be many potential applications to treat other bowel diseases,” Moonah said. “The burden of It’s hard infection is a serious problem, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to help find new solutions that will lead to healthy children.

Republished with kind permission from the University of Virginia.

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