Boise State scientists create potentially lifesaving drugs

Posted at 5:26 PM, Jul 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-16 19:29:46-04

Inside a Boise State University laboratory, students are creating potentially lifesaving drugs.

Their research is being conducted under the careful watch of Dr. Ken Cornell. "We critically need new drugs, especially with the development of some of these multi-drug resistant organisms," says Cornell.

One major focus of their work is evident only under a microscope. Giardia is a single cell parasite that packs a potent punch to your intestinal system.

Dr. Cornell knows, he contracted the parasite while working for the Peace Corps in East Africa thirty years ago. Also known as Beaver Fever, Giardia is endemic to wildlife and livestock. It is transmitted by feces in open water to people.

"It causes hundreds of millions of cases of Giardia every year," says Cornell.

There are only a few antibiotics to treat it, but the drugs are not safe for everyone and sometimes they don't work. That's why the National Institutes of Health gave Dr. Cornell a grant for $418,000 to try and create a better treatment. Dr. Cornell is teaming up on the Giardia project with a chemistry professor at College of Idaho. He says partnerships between Idaho universities speed up research and development.

"Not only is it a local problem, but as parasites go it's not studied so heavily. I don't have to compete with labs with lots and lots of money," says Cornell.

Make no mistake, it's a race to find the best drug and get it to market. Dr. Cornell says from his lab to your pharmacy it will still takes decades, which is why Giardia isn't the only thing being studied in this lab.

"We have to be very careful with this. A lot of protocols to follow," warns Boise State Senior Elena Paz. She's talking about the E. Coli she is growing inside the lab. It's the same bacteria that sickened, even killed people, when recently linked to romaine lettuce.

"I think it just shows how applicable everything we do is and how important it is to understand this organism," says Paz.

Her fellow researcher, Meagan Boll, says she likes being a detective in the lab and for
her the work is very personal. Boll fell off a third-floor balcony and broke her neck back in 2006. Her spinal cord injury radically changed her life.

The now masters level bio-chemist is on a mission to keep other quadriplegics as healthy as possible. "I don't get sick a lot. But when I get sick, I get really really sick. So, the rising resistance to antibiotics is a rising threat to my health," says Boll.

Dr. Cornell says we're all living in this post-antibiotic era, which is why their research is vital in the fight against diseases. And it all starts in a lab, just like his.