K-State researcher looks to develop vaccines against tick-borne disease


Veterinary medicine could benefit from studies on Ehrlichia chaffeensis.

A vaccine against certain tick-borne diseases maybe be on the horizon if studies underway at Kansas State University prove successful.

Roman Ganta, PhD, a professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology at KSU, has received a four-year $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue his studies of the tick-borne bacterium Ehrlichia chaffeensis. The grant is the latest in 16 continuous years of NIH funding for Ganta's research on tick-borne pathogens. Ganta says he hopes that by studying the genetic composition of E. chaffeensis, he and his team will be able to develop vaccines to protect against infections caused by the bacterium and other tick-borne pathogens.

Roman Ganta, professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, has received a $1.8 million NIH grant to continue studying the tick-borne bacterium Ehrlichia chaffeensis.“Our research is directed at more than just one pathogen and one disease from one tick," Ganta says. "There are several different tick species that transmit pathogens that cause diseases in humans, dogs, cattle, sheep and other vertebrate animals. Our research also applies to other pathogens transmitted from different tick species."

E. chaffeensis is a zoonotic pathogen transmitted to humans and animals by the lone star tick and causes monocytic ehrlichiosis in humans. The lone star tick is prevalent in eastern Kansas and throughout the southeastern and south central regions of the United States. Symptoms of infection can include persistent fever, headache, fatigue and muscle aches, which often appear one to two weeks following a tick bite. The severity of the disease varies from person to person, although it can be fatal in immunocompromised people, Ganta says.

The major goal of Ganta's research is to understand what proteins are important for E. chaffeensis to grow in vertebrate hosts and in ticks. Ganta and his research team are working at the genome level to understand how the pathogen grows in humans, animals and ticks, and how it is uniquely able to adapt to vertebrate hosts and ticks.

"We want to identify which genes are essential for the pathogen and use them to develop a vaccine," Ganta says. "We want to understand the molecular basis for the pathogenesis by carrying out basic research that has important implications for applied science."

 In addition to the NIH grant, Ganta has also been awarded $9,000 by the Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine and the department of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology to develop a tick-rearing laboratory to be used not only by Ganta's team, but by other university researchers and possibly collaborators from other institutions.

Ganta's research team includes veterinary student Tanner Slead from the Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine at Overland Park.

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