UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA MERCED
BUILDING A HEALTHIER
From Valley fever to HIV/AIDS
and antibiotic resistance,
UC Merced's research today
will build a better tomorrow
UC Merced researchers are shaping the future of medicine by developing new ways to combat familiar diseases and shedding light on others that have been historically understudied. Their work will forever change the way researchers and clinicians address the health of the Valley and beyond.
THE FUTURE OF MEDICINE
Valley fever remains a persistent threat to health in the San Joaquin Valley. Hospitalizations from Valley fever have cost patients and taxpayers more than $2 billion over the past decade. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that as many as 150,000 people annually are infected, and incidence of the disease is on the rise.
THE CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL
ESTIMATE THAT AS MANY AS 150,000
PEOPLE ANNUALLY ARE INFECTED,
AND INCIDENCE OF THE DISEASE IS ON THE RISE
Yet relatively little is known about the biology of Coccidioides, the microscopic, soil-borne fungus that causes Valley Fever. That’s why UC Merced biologists Aaron Hernday, Katrina Hoyer and Clarissa Nobile are escalating the fight against Valley fever and the infectious agent that causes the disease.
When Coccidioides spores become airborne and are inhaled — which occurs when the soil where it lives is disturbed by winds or human activity such as agriculture and construction — it can result in Valley fever. The disease is not transmissible from person to person, and most who are infected show no symptoms. But severe cases can cause long-lasting, flu-like symptoms and even death.
Hernday, Hoyer and Nobile are using cutting-edge scientific tools to fight Coccidioidesat the molecular level. They’re sequencing the genomes of different strains to understand why some are more virulent. They’re also developing new genetic tools that will allow them to engineer the Coccidioides genome and disrupt the pathogen’s life cycle, allowing for better disease treatment and prevention. And they’re working to understand how the immune system responds to Coccidioides infection to explain why some patients exhibit severe symptoms and others don’t.
Already at the forefront of Valley fever research, UC Merced biologists will soon have a new weapon in their arsenal when the brand new biosafety level 3 research facilities — ideal for studying pathogens like Coccidioides — open as part of the Merced 2020 Project.
When the soil where the spores live is disturbed BY WINDS OR HUMAN ACTIVITY SUCH AS AGRICULTURE AND CONSTRUCTION – IT CAN RESULT IN VALLEY FEVER
LiWang's Lab Leads HIV/AIDS Research
UC Merced biochemist Patti LiWang is breaking new ground in the fight against AIDS. Collaborating with biologists, engineers and clinical specialists around the world, LiWang is testing a novel way to store and administer drugs that prevent HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
There are already drugs on the market that inhibit the spread of HIV, including a daily pill can prevent HIV-negative individuals from contracting the virus. A similar pill for those who are HIV-positive keeps the virus at bay and prevents carriers from spreading it to others.
These drugs have transformed HIV from a death sentence into a manageable disease, but their benefits have been largely confined to developed nations because they only remain effective if they’re stored and administered under carefully controlled conditions.
In areas that lack reliable electricity, caregivers and patients are unable to store the drugs in climate-controlled environments, so the medicines quickly become ineffective. In areas where roads and transportation are unreliable, patients may run out of their supplies before refills reach them.
Collaborating with biologists,
engineers and clinical specialists
around the world, LiWang is
testing a novel way to
store and administer drugs
that prevent HIV
In emerging areas such a sub-Saharan Africa and India, people continue to contract and die of AIDS at alarming rates. In many cases, the culprit is a lack of infrastructure — a hurdle that presents no problems for LiWang’s new approach.
LiWang and her collaborators discovered that a protein found in silk can be combined with powerful HIV inhibitors, allowing the drugs to remain potent for long periods of time under extreme conditions. Furthermore, they can manufacture small strips containing the silk protein and HIV medicine that can be applied topically, allowing for the slow release of HIV inhibitors over a 30-day period.
More than just a new drug, LiWang’s lab is supplying an entirely new approach — one that has the potential to solve the lingering problems associated with HIV treatment in areas of the world that need it most.
diseases such as tuberculosis
and pneumonia are quickly
becoming resistant to nearly
all existing antibiotics.
Barlow's Look at Bacteria and
More bacteria are resistant to antibiotics than ever before, and no new antibiotics are in development.
That means microbiologists like Professor Miriam Barlow must explore new approaches to combat deadly superbugs.
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause about 2 million infections and 23,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Some reports even suggest that antibiotic resistance is a greater threat to global health than HIV.
Bacterial diseases that were once straightforwardly treated with a course of antibiotic drugs — diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia — are quickly becoming resistant to nearly all existing antibiotics.
Developing new drugs would only be a stopgap, because bacteria evolve their resistance so quickly. That’s why Barlow is taking a radically different approach — she’s working to reverse bacterial evolution and make drug-resistant bacteria susceptible to antibiotics once again.
She’s not doing it alone. Barlow collaborates with mathematicians and genome scientists to develop mathematical models that track how resistance evolves. They’ve already developed new treatment strategies that have reversed antibiotic resistance in the lab. And Barlow is training the next generation of scientists to tackle the problem well into the future.
Alumni Spotlight: Portia Mira
Portia Mira recently graduated from Barlow’s lab with her Ph.D. in Quantitative Systems Biology, after devising a successful new strategy to reverse antibiotic resistance. More than just an accomplished scientist, Mira is also emerging as an important spokeswoman for science.
As a finalist at the UC-wide GradSLAM competition, Mira explained her research efforts and the importance of continuing the fight against antibiotic-resistance in a TED-like presentation. Together, Barlow, Mira and other researchers are shaping the future of medicine by bridging disparate disciplines and finding new ways to fight infectious disease.