Dr. Mattie Christine Pawlowic has opened a new research laboratory jointly in the Division of Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery (BCDD) and our new Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives Research (WCAIR).
Dr. Pawlowic’s research focus is on Cryptosporidium, a waterborne parasite that can cause chronic diarrhoea, dehydration and malnutrition. This can be highly dangerous in the very young (children under 2 years of age) and the immunocompromised. “The main problem with Cryptosporidium is that it is difficult to remove from water. Chlorination and most common water treatments do not work. These parasites can even withstand bleach! Globally, there are many places without access to safe drinking water, especially in southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa; however, outbreaks can happen anywhere. In 1993, a water treatment centre broke down in Milwaukee, in the USA, which caused an outbreak. Even worse, there’s only a single drug available to treat cryptosporidiosis, and it’s not effective” said Dr. Pawlowic.
The Pawlowic laboratory’s research concentrates in two main areas: understanding the basic biology and biochemistry of Cryptosporidium, and drug discovery in collaboration with WCAIR and the Drug Discovery Unit (DDU). Developing new genetic tools to work with the parasite will help both aims. “Infection occurs through the oral ingestion of an oocyst. The wall of an oocyst is extremely protective and can withstand bleaching and chlorination. If we can unravel the structure of this wall we can develop drugs to interfere with the infection cycle,” explained Dr. Pawlowic. “Cryptosporidium is difficult to genetically manipulate and you cannot culture it continuously. At the University of Georgia, I used CRISPR to make the first genetic knockout of Cryptosporidium. Now we have the chance to use that technology in collaboration with drug discovery to develop new drugs.”
Dr. Pawlowic previously studied the parasite Leishmania during her undergraduate and graduate years at Texas Tech University, and subsequently was a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Boris Striepen at the University of Georgia. During her time in the Striepen lab, Dr. Pawlowic developed genetic tools for studying Cryptosporidium.
Sumiti Vinayak, Mattie C. Pawlowic et al., Genetic modification of the diarrhoeal pathogen Cryptosporidium parvum. Nature 523, 477 – 480 (2015)
Stephen M. Beverley. Parasitology: CRISPR for Cryptosporidium. Nature 523, 413 – 414 (2015)
Mattie C. Pawlowic et al., UNIT 20B.2 Generating and Maintaining Transgenic Cryptosporidium parvum Parasites. Current Protocols in Microbiology, 46, 20B.2.1 – 20B.2.32 (2017)