Idaho Researchers Creating New Drug To Treat Giardia

Oct 17, 2017

Hikers and backpackers are often familiar with giardia, a nasty parasite that can contaminate water sources. Now researchers at the College of Idaho and Boise State University are working on new drugs to fight or kill the bug that can leave campers in intense intestinal distress.

Giardia lives in the intestines and is passed on through the feces of infected people or animals. John Thurston, an associate professor of chemistry at the College of Idaho, says those infected face nausea, fever, cramping, diarrhea and in some cases it can be fatal.

“It’s kind of a lesser-known organism, unless you’re one of the unfortunate individuals who's been afflicted with it,” says Thurston.

Thurston says there are around 1,000 cases in the northwest every year. It’s a nasty bug, he says, but there aren’t enough cases for drug companies to justify the high cost of making a new drug to treat it, as it has become more resistant to remedies already on the market. So Thurston and his team are synthesizing new drugs, using a $418,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Thurston says the drugs will act as enzyme inhibitors against giardia, slowing down or stopping the bug’s ability to release toxins into its host.

“It may kill the organism or it may simply mitigate its ability to produce exotoxins or biofilms and in doing that, it should make the organism a lot easier to treat by conventional therapies,” Thurston says.

C of I and Boise State have up to 30 students at a time working on the new drugs. Thurston says their research could be applied to other parasites and lead to drugs that can target other nasty microorganisms.

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