Kamal El Bissati, PhD, a faculty member in the department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Chicago, has been awarded a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award in Medical Sciences and Public/Global Health for 2017-2018.
El Bissati is a microbiologist who studies how parasites that cause diseases interact with their hosts, specifically toxoplamosis. Toxoplasmosis is a serious, potentially fatal parasitic disease. While some people carry the Toxoplasmosis gondii parasite without showing any symptoms, it can cause blindness, developmental disabilities and epilepsy in infants born to mothers infected with it.
Toxoplasmosis is a serious issue in the developing world, including Bissati’s native Morocco, where as many as half of pregnant women carry the parasite. Under the Fulbright program, he will travel to Morocco for the 2017-18 academic year to collect genetic variation data on the parasite in North Africa to support his ongoing research with Rima McLeod, MD, Medical Director of the Toxoplasmosis Center at UChicago and one of the world’s leading experts on the disease.
El Bissati , McLeod, and Peter Burkhard from Alpha-O Peptides AG in Switzerland recently led a research effort to develop a new type of vaccine for toxoplasmosis that uses “self-assembling protein nanoparticles” (SAPNs), specially engineered molecules that can trigger a strong immune response. These particles carry tiny fragments of the Toxoplasma pathogen and presents them to the host’s immune system. In a paper published on September 5 in the journal npj (Nature) Vaccines, the team showed how mice with human immune response genes that are given the new “immunosense” vaccine were protected against toxoplasmosis and generated a significant T-cell response against the parasite.”
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. Each year more than 800 U.S. citizens teach, conduct research, and provide expertise abroad in over 160 countries worldwide.