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Sleeping Sickness Grant Will Benefit Student Research

Geneseo students in chemistry lab

Professor of Biology Kevin Militello has been awarded a three-year grant of nearly $460,000 from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The award will, in part, help fund undergraduate researchers who will work in Militello’s lab looking for new drug targets in the parasite that causes Trypanosomiasis, commonly known as African Sleeping Sickness.

African Sleeping Sickness is found in sub-Saharan Africa. The disease, which affects the central nervous system, is mostly transmitted through the bite of an infected tsetse fly. A person can be infected with the parasite for months or years without showing any symptoms of the disease. By the time symptoms appear, the infected person is already in an advanced stage of the disease.

According to Militello, there is an urgent need for new control strategies for the disease. There is no vaccine and drugs that are used to treat the late stages of the disease are few in number and are highly toxic.

“We’ll be studying the biochemical pathways of the organism T. brucei,” says Militello who is also the Biochemistry Coordinator at Geneseo. The project will look at RNA and its covalent modifications (short-lived copies of DNA that allow cells to adapt to their environment) that are required for the parasite’s growth.

Militello is especially excited about the research opportunities the NIAID grant provides for students. The grant will fund several full-time student researchers each summer session and it will also provide monies for students to present their data at conferences. Additional students will also be working on the experiment during the academic year.

“This study will provide a diverse set of learning opportunities for our undergraduate students,” says Militello. “My research program is multidisciplinary; students will be exposed to genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, bioinformatics, microbiology, infectious diseases, and public health, which will build a strong foundation for success in graduate and professional school.”

Militello estimates that about half of his lab students go on to medical school after graduation, and the majority of the rest go on to graduate school.

Militello received his Bachelor’s degree in biological sciences, and he earned his Ph.D. in microbiology at the University at Buffalo under Professor Laurie Read. He joined the faculty at Geneseo in 2005 after a five-year postdoctoral fellowship at the Harvard School of Public Health, where he studied malaria, infectious diseases, and molecular biology. Read will be working with Militello’s lab by providing genetically engineered parasites for the NIAID-funded study.

Media contact:
Monique Patenaude
Office of Communications and Marketing
(585) 245-5056
patenaude@geneseo.edu