Cryptosporidiosis is one of the major primary causes of chronic diarrhea and malnutrition in poor countries. Collectively, diarrhea is responsible for over 3.5 million deaths worldwide each year and for one third of deaths in children under the age of 14 years from infectious diseases. Cryptosporidiosis is also one of the opportunistic infections which can infect people with HIV/AIDS and other immuno-compromised individuals, leading to the untimely death of such patients. There is no effective treatment against this infection, which can be contracted from other infected humans, from animals or from consuming contaminated food and water.
Cryptosporidiosis has emerged over the last decade as the single most important cause of waterborne infections in the United States. The wake-up call was a major waterborne outbreak in Milwaukee in 1994 involving 400,000 people and over 100 deaths. Projects include laboratory-based studies on the biology of the microorganism, discovery and evaluation of drugs against the disease, functional genomics, association with HIV/AIDS, the role in malnutrition and wasting in children with and without HIV/AIDS, the role in respiratory tract infections and innate host defense mechanisms.
Cryptosporidium research at the Department of Infectious Disease and Global Health includes laboratory-based studies on the biology of the parasite, development of animal models, discovery and evaluation of vaccines and drugs against the disease, functional genomics. In recent years, the research has shifted to investigations relating to cryptosporidiosis in the pediatric population in under resourced countries. These studies, focused largely on C. hominis, are currently funded by the Gates Foundation to develop and evaluate therapeutics, methods of cryopreservation, human volunteer challenge models, and in vitro cultivation. Funded by NIH, efforts have also focused on developing vaccines to protect the infant population.