The Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation recognizes Maria Belen Cassera for working on new strategies to fight infectious diseases.
An assistant professor of biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Science, Cassera seeks to understand the basis of host-pathogen interactions using metabolomics approaches.
As people become more mobile in a global society, opportunities for infectious agents to spread are growing. Meanwhile, many of these invaders are building resistance to formerly effective drug treatments.
Respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases, measles, AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis are major causes of death worldwide. In addition, several harmful bacteria and protozoa can cause life-threatening infections and serious social and economic consequences.
A member of the Center for Drug Discovery and an affiliate of the Fralin Life Science Institute, Cassera uses metabolomics in efforts to develop new classes of chemotherapeutics to overcome drug-resistance in infectious agents and avoid unwanted side effects caused by current treatments.
By finding drug targets in the infectious agents that are absent or different in people, it follows that treatments against these targets are likely to be safe in pregnant women, elder patients, and children, who are the most susceptible to severe infections.
Cassera and colleagues are focused on developing compounds that will be effective against both the major African malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, as well as Plasmodium vivax, a major vector of malaria in South America and Asia.
Malaria was responsible for an estimated 584,000 deaths in 2013 and new malaria drugs are desperately needed, because malaria parasites are gaining resistance to traditional medications.
Cassera received her doctoral degree in host-pathogen interaction at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and a licientiate in biotechnology from the National University of Littoral, Argentina.