Texas Tech Biologist Trying to Discover Cure for Devastating Insect-Borne Illness
Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 24, 2010
Kai Zhang has made it his mission to cure Leishmania, the second-leading parasitic killer.
It’s not that the sandfly itself is poisonous. But the parasitic Leishmania protozoa in its saliva can cause anything from itchy skin irritation or disfiguring ulcers that take months to heal to a painful attack on the body’s organs that could eventually lead to death.
But one Texas Tech researcher is dedicating his career to finding the chink in the armor of these protozoa, which, in its most virulent form, is the second-leading parasitic killer after Malaria.
Kai Zhang, an assistant professor of biology, has studied the protozoa since 2000. He recently received a Recovery Act award of $136,000 from the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study certain infection-causing lipid molecules in Leishmania in the hopes of diffusing them and rendering the organism harmless.
“You can find sandflies mostly in the Middle East, Africa, some parts of South and Central America – mainly tropical and sub-tropical areas,” Zhang said. “It’s kind of a blood-sucking insect. It can transmit the infective organism into humans or animals. Humans are just one of Leishmania’s hosts, and we’re probably accidental hosts. The natural hosts in the world are rodents and canines.” Read the full story here