Winning insights: Prize awarded to young researchers investigating a new potential drug target for Chagas disease

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Our huge congratulations go to Dr Daniele Chame (above), post-doctoral research associate from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), Brazil, and Carlos Estevez, a masters’ student at UFMG, co-recipients of the 2019 Zigman Brener award at the XXXV Annual Meeting of the Brazilian Society for Protozoology (SBPz).
Daniele and Carlos are early career researchers from Professor Santuza Teixeira‘s team at UFMG, Belo Horizonte; they presented their findings as a poster in the Translational Biology session during the meeting, held in Caxambu, Brazil, 4th-6th November 2019.  Daniele had to accept the prize alone, as Carlos was busy elsewhere, at our “Workshop in Drug Discovery” training and industry symposium, held in Mendoza, Argentina, 2nd-4th November.  
This success marks the second year running that the NTD Network has won this award!  Last year’s winner was Mr Douglas Escrivani from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Daniele and Carlos are researching for a project arising from a collaboration between Santuza and Dr Paul Denny (Durham University, UK).  This work investigates the potential of an enzyme found in Trypanosoma cruzi (causing Chagas disease) as a new drug target.  Inositol phosphoceramide (IPC), a sphingolipid, is abundant in the cell membranes of T. cruzi and other protozoa, but is absent from humans and other mammals.  These researchers are investigating IPC Synthase (IPCS), catalysing the final step in the production of this sphingolipid, as a potential molecular target for drug development to treat Chagas disease. Carlos and Daniela have used Crispr-Cas9 technology to genetically manipulate laboratory strains of T. cruzi, producing mutant versions of the parasite in which the enzyme is either missing or overactive.  Their data so far suggest that parasites lacking the gene for IPCS are sickly and have a reduced ability to infect their host. 
Full characterisation of these mutants is now underway.  Carlos and Daniela, we look forward to updates of your progress!
Read their winning poster abstract here.