Michael Pollastri, associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology
Pollastri’s novel approach to curing African sleeping sickness—the deadly, parasitic disease that affects the world’s poorest populations—has the potential to reframe the global effort to wipe out tropical diseases.
Using results from drug discovery efforts for other diseases, Pollastri’s team sifts through thousands of drugs—both under investigation and FDA-approved—searching for those that can be repurposed to stop the parasite.
His team hunts for medicines that inhibit drug targets in human cells—such as those important to cancer growth—that are also present in trypanosoma brucei, the culprit bacteria.
The compounds are tested in culture. When the team finds a hit—and they’ve identified several already—they make chemical alterations to tune the drug to work against parasites.
Pollastri’s method—sometimes known as “target class repurposing”—could deliver new drugs more quickly and at lower cost, critical considerations when a researcher is targeting diseases that hit the poor the hardest.