CLEMSON — Clemson University’s Eukaryotic Pathogens Innovation Center (EPIC), established one year ago Friday, stands at the forefront of biomedical research on eukaryotic pathogens, the causative agents of some of the most devastating and intractable diseases of humans including malaria, amoebic dysentery, sleeping sickness, Chagas disease and fungal meningitis.

Cells within a degradable hydrogel, pseudo-colored as a function of depth inside the gel, is cropped into a tiger paw.  image by: Jaishankar Kutty, Ken Webb/ Clemson University

Cells within a degradable hydrogel, pseudo-colored as a function of depth inside the gel, is cropped into the shape of a tiger paw. Image by Jaishankar Kutty, Ken Webb/ Clemson University

“Globalization has resulted in an increase in such infections in the U.S. and many eukaryotic pathogens are classified as bioterrorism agents or neglected tropical diseases,” said Kerry Smith, professor in the department of genetics and biochemistry and EPIC director. “Our research is having a direct impact on global health while also creating a legacy of scientific inquiry and training the next generation of scientists.”

The bulk of the center’s funding is derived from National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF). EPIC researchers have secured more than $6 million dollars in federal funding and continuously seek out collaborative partnerships with industry and private foundations. In the 12 months since EPIC’s inception, its researchers gained much acclaim for their ongoing research, publications, awards and events:

  • EPIC faculty members Meredith Morris and James Morris and colleagues recently were awarded a $347,263 two-year grant from NIH to study mechanisms parasites use to respond to environmental changes like those they encounter in their human hosts and the insects that transmit them.  Understanding how the parasites respond will allow for the development of new approaches to stop them.
  • Amrita Koushik, a newly minted Ph.D. from genetics and biochemistry, in collaboration with EPIC faculty member Lesly Temesvari, published a portion of her thesis work on a critical parasite signaling pathway in journal Eukaryotic Cell.  Their research shed light on how the parasite Entamoeba histolytica, the third leading cause of morbidity and mortality due to parasitic disease in humans, perceives and responds to the environment faced during infection.
  • Lukasz Kozubowski, EPIC assistant professor, is lead author on a paper published in journal mBio, which reports that kinetochore behavior in the fungi is more similar to that found in metazoans and less like that found in yeasts, implicating the evolution of mitosis.  The pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans, the focus of their research, is the leading cause of fungal meningitis worldwide and can be acquired by inhalation of the fungus from the environment.
  • EPIC hosted the Cell Biology of Eukaryotic Pathogens Symposium to offer valuable insight and encourage collaboration among researchers of all levels of expertise from both EPIC and the University of Georgia’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases. Approximately 80 students, post-doctoral fellows and faculty from five colleges and universities across South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina attended.
  • Cheryl Jones, a Ph.D. student mentored by EPIC faculty member Cheryl Ingram-Smith, was awarded a three-year NSF Research Fellowship. And two recent EPIC Ph.D. graduates have begun their post-doctoral studies at University of California, Los Angeles and University of Maryland.

“The global importance of eukaryotic pathogens is what motivates our faculty and students,” said Smith. “EPIC faculty have an established and lengthy track record of major contributions in this area of research.”

The center is located in Clemson’s new Life Sciences Building. The 100,000-square-foot building is comprised of three floors of cutting-edge research space, consisting of 25 “wall-less” laboratories. The facility opened in January 2013 and represents an investment of $50 million dollars.  EPIC occupies the top floor.


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