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UND researchers get $10.7 million to study HIV, Lyme disease, other infections

Dr. Brij Singh, center, and his team of biomedical researchers at the UND Medical School (L-R) Malak Kotb, David Bradley, Jyotika Sharma, Bibhuti Mishra, Catherine Brissette, and Min Wu were awarded a $10.7 million grant to study how infections work . photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
UND researcher Jyotika Sharma talks with graduate assistants Christopher Jondle and Pooja Chauhan in a lab at the Medical School where she studies the prevention of sepsis. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

Several professors and researchers with wide-ranging areas of study and expertise are collaborating to learn more about disease and how cells respond to it.

A group of five professors were recently awarded a $10.7 million Center for Excellence in Host-Pathogen Interactions grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Each one is delving into a specific part of how infections work with an emphasis on the predispositions of the host.

Catherine Brissette's work deals with Lyme disease, Bibhuti Mishra is studying parasites, Jyotika Sharma is looking at how to prevent sepsis pneumonia-causing bacteria, Min Wu is studying a self-consuming bacteria and Xuesong Chen is looking at HIV.

Sharma said the project will look at how diseases communicate with cells and then how the cell responds.

"The pathway I identify, it could be important for her infection as well," she said, referencing Brissette's area of study. "We don't know because they're looking at an entirely different aspect of this. What she finds in the brain could be relative to my research as well because I'm not looking at the brain."

Professor Malak Kotb, an infectious disease expert also working on the project, said the humane treatment of animals in research is emphasized, with staff checking them 24 hours a day and putting down rats that exhibit signs of pain.

She said the research is unique in that the condition of the host is being taken into account.

"The same pathogen can cause diseases of very different severity depending on the host," Kotb said. "It's not just like 'this pathogen is going to cause this every time.' No. It depends on the makeup of the host and host response that will either clear it up quickly or make it worse, and not many people are incorporating this into their studies."

The five-year grant is renewable for up to 15 years. The labor required for the research builds infrastructure for others in the school to use the materials or assist in research preparation.

"They provide resources to the rest of the school as well as the entire state," Brissette said.

Professor Brij Singh, another researcher, said he hopes the work will solve bigger problems.

"Even though we all work in our own labs and do our own things, when we come together as a group we can do better in terms of treatment, diagnosis or whatever we think of," he said. "That's the bottom line."

Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.

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