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NIH awards Murphy grant to continue study into cause of diarrheal disease

(ATHENS, Ohio – Aug 16, 2013) Erin Murphy, Ph.D., assistant professor of bacteriology, received a $445,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue her research on the Shigella bacteria.

The bacterium causes the acute diarrheal disease shigellosis in humans, which kills more than one million people around the world each year.

Murphy plans to investigate how two newly discovered, nearly identical regulatory RNA molecules influence the survival Shigella dysenteriae and/or the ability of the bacterium to cause disease. She hopes to find out how these RNA molecules influence Shigella physiology and if targeted disruptions of one or both alter the ability of the bacterium to complete processes essential for disease initiation and progression. These studies will be a first step towards the long-term potential of manipulating the small RNA molecules as a means to treat shigellosis.

“The global burden of shigellosis is due in part to the lack of a vaccine to prevent the infection and the lack of a universally safe and available antibiotic regimen to treat the infection,” Murphy explained.

An improved medical treatment for shigellosis could mean the difference between life and death for people living in areas where clean drinking water is scarce. Although primarily a problem in developing countries, shigellosis also causes a reported 14,000 cases in the United States annually. The Centers for Disease Control suggests that the actual number may be 20 times higher, as mild cases often aren't reported or diagnosed.

Graduate students will be involved in each step of the study, Murphy said. “In this type of grant from the NIH, one of the components is to encourage student training,” she said.

Participation by students will help provide them with practical experience in the fields of bacterial pathogenesis and RNA-based regulation, Murphy said. “The resulting combination of skills and experience will position students well to contribute to the rapidly advancing fields of ribo-regulation in pathogenic bacteria, commensal bacteria and eukaryotic systems,” she said.

 
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