Lucy H. Young, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Ophthalmology
Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan parasite that is present globally and causes a common infection in animals and humans. One of the investigator’s interests is to determine whether there are specific factors that determine disease outcome in an individual patient infected with Toxoplama gondii. Are there host factors? Are there certain strain types that are more virulent? In collaboration with Prof. Jeroen Saeij, an Assistant Professor at MIT, we are working on the following projects:
1) Cytokine Polymorphism
We are interested in looking at various cytokines for possible polymorphisms that may explain why some patients show massive inflammation once infected with this parasite and why some patients seem to have repeated recurrences as if they’re unable to maintain the parasite in the dormant cyst stage. We will collaborate with several Brazilian ophthalmologists from Brazil and will have access to blood of patients with documented ocular toxoplamosis. We will process their blood DNA for single nucleotide polymorphism (SNPs) from cytokine genes at the Broad Institute Center.
2) Serotyping Toxoplasma gondii strains
Some strains cause disease in the eye by creating excessive stimulation of the immune system leading to toxic levels of cytokines (extensive vasculitis and macular edema) and some cause massive retinal destruction by the large numbers of parasites present in the retina. Using available genome sequence from a number of Toxoplasma gondii strains, we will have the most polymorphic Toxoplasma proteins identified. With these proteins, we will synthesize polymorphic peptides to design an improved serological assay to better characterize the specific strain that is the culprit. With this assay, we will be better prepared to treat patient according to the virulence of their strain.