New R01 award from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases may lead to better treatments for parasitic infections
Dr. Bibo Li, a professor in the Department of Biological, Geological, and Environmental Sciences (BGES) and a member of the Center for Gene Regulation in Health and Disease (GRHD), has been awarded a new R01 research grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The 5-year, $2.16 million project is titled "Essential functions of Trypanosoma brucei RAP1." This is her second active R01 grant and reflects her prolific research activity; she was awarded another 4-year R01 grant and a 2-year R21 grant in 2022 and an R03 grant in 2021.
Dr. Li's research team investigates the structure and functions of telomeres, the regions at the ends of chromosomes that, together with associated proteins, act like aglets of a shoelace to maintain the genome stability and integrity. In particular, Dr. Li's research interests are in the pathogenesis mechanisms of Trypanosoma brucei (T. brucei), a parasite that causes sleeping sickness in humans. T. brucei regularly switches its major surface antigen, VSG, to evade the human immune response and to establish a long term infection. Genes encoding VSG proteins are located adjacent to the telomere, while work from Dr. Li's lab has shown that VSG expression and VSG switching are tightly regulated by telomere proteins.
Dr. Li's team has identified T. brucei RAP1, a telomere protein that has been found to suppress VSG switching and is indispensable for proper VSG expression. The new research project will focus on how RAP1 specifically associates with the telomere and interacts with the VSG RNA and other proteins, which will contribute to better treatments for infections caused by T. brucei and similar kinetoplastid parasites.
Dr. Li actively trains the next generation of bioscience researchers at the undergraduate and graduate level. This year, undergraduate students Elaina Casteel, Delaney Brown, and Jillian Gady worked in Dr. Li's lab on a project titled Characterize TbRAP1 BRCT1 and Myb Domain Functions by Mutagenesis funded by CSU's Undergraduate Summer Research Award (USRA) program. The team won a best poster award at the annual USRA poster session in October.