William Petri, MD, PhD Receives $3 Million R37 NIH MERIT Award to Study the Parasite Causing Amebic Dysentery

January 12, 2023 by

Steve Rich, Audrey Brown, and Bill Petri

from left: Steve Rich, Audrey Brown, and Bill Petri

William A. Petri MD, PhD, the Wade Hampton Frost Professor of Epidemiology and a clinician-scientist in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases, was awarded a R37 MERIT Award for $3 million to study the parasite that causes amebic dysentery, named Entamoeba histolytica.

Working with children in the urban slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Petri’s team discovered that ameba invade the intestine by eating it alive, piece by piece. Surprisingly some children were resistant to infection from this deadly parasite. One potential explanation for this is genetic resistance to infection.

In a collaboration with Steve Rich, PhD, a professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences and Priya Duggal, PhD, at Johns Hopkins, children resistant to amebiasis had their genomes probed with a genome wide association study (GWAS). Resistance to amebiasis was discovered to be due in part to a polymorphism in a cyclic AMP-regulated transcription factor called CREM. The same polymorphism in CREM is also associated with resistance to inflammatory bowel disease. The R37 MERIT award seeks to understand how this transcription factor regulates susceptibility to these two different yet related diseases of the colon.

Leading this research is Audrey Brown, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow supported by the UVA Immunology Training Program that is directed by Vic Engelhard, PhD, and is being co-mentored by Drs. Petri and Rich.

Read more about Dr. Petri’s research.

Filed Under: Faculty, Research