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Spring 2009
Biology Professor Researching New Approach to Combating Cholera

In the slums of Calcutta a University of Houston biology professor recently saw first-hand the kind of cholera patients his pioneering research could help treat one day.

Glen Legge's work could pave the way for an antitoxin that would significantly reduce the severity of a disease that still is endemic in parts of the third world. In the fall of 2008, he was among a group of up-and-coming researchers chosen by the National Institutes of Health for a two-week trip to India.

They visited hospitals and clinics where patients are treated for cholera, tuberculosis and tetanus to observe the kind of rudimentary facilities and practical realities faced by health-care providers in poor countries.

The trip reinforced the imperative that future antitoxins developed through his research must be cheap and simple, Legge said.

Cholera is currently treated with oral hydration therapy, but a patient must still endure some 24 hours of massive diarrhea until the infection passes. Although antimicrobial drugs also can be used to fight cholera, they can lead to the creation of new drug-resistant mutations of the disease, Legge said.

Instead, Legge proposes attacking cholera at the molecular level. Cholera is a molecular trojan horse that enters the body in an inactive form and then hijacks host cells, Legge said.

His research is providing novel ways of understanding exactly how the bacteria activate and takes over a cell. Legge envisions a simple antitoxin added to the hydration therapy that would stop the cell hijacking dead in its tracks and cut the infection time to four hours.

This would not only improve patient conditions but also reduce the amount of infected waste being deposited into environments with little or no sanity disposal systems.
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