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Rachel Zufferey

Associate Professor
Biological Sciences

Leishmania species and Trypanosomes are arthropod-born protozoan parasites that cause important diseases in human and animals, and affect tenths of million patients worldwide. Because of the lack of effective vaccine and adequate pharmacological agents, more efficacious drugs are urgently needed for treatment of these debilitating diseases. Glycerolipid biosynthesis is essential for the generation of cellular membranes and cell surface glycerolipid-based virulence factors that play crucial roles for establishment of a successful infection in the vertebrate host. The goal of our research is to understand how the parasites generate their membranes, how this process affects their virulence, and understand the mechanism of action of lipid-based drugs, some of which are in clinical trials. The focus of our research is to characterize enzymes involved in the biosynthesis of various classes of glycerolipids with an eye toward drug and vaccine development. We employ a combination of genetic, molecular and cell biology, and biochemical approaches to assess the roles of these enzymes in the biosynthesis of lipids and lipid-based virulence factors, and in virulence. Last, we are also interested in understanding the process of mitochondrial fission during cytokinesis in Leishmania.   

Our work has been carried out by numerous graduate and undergraduates students who further their education at prestigious schools such as Columbia University, University of Connecticut Health Center, Kansas City Medical School, University of Michigan, and University of Kansas. Our research has also been enhanced by collaborations with colleagues from Brown University, Iowa State University, and Kansas State University.

Our research has been funded by the American Heart Association, the National Institute of Health, and by various private organizations.