With help, Adelphi researchers target common STD

Chemical bond: An NIH grant will further research into a common sexually transmitted disease by Adelphi University chemistry professors Brian Stockman and Melissa VanAlstine-Parris.

Two Adelphi University professors exploring a common sexually transmitted disease have earned a healthy federal grant.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded associate professors Brian Stockman and Melissa VanAlstine-Parris, both PhDs and members of the university’s Chemistry Department, a $310,934 grant to further their research into trichomoniasis, the most prevalent non-viral STD.

The grant is designed to involve undergraduate students in the professors’ cutting-edge research, including hands-on use of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, medicinal chemistry and other explorations of the biology of Trichomonas vaginalis – a protozoan parasite recognized as the causative agent of trichomoniasis, with the dubious distinction of being the most common pathogenic protozoan infection of humans in industrialized countries.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 million new cases of trichomoniasis are reported in the United States each year. Symptoms are typically mild, though the immune system can be compromised, resulting in a higher susceptibility to more serious conditions such as cervical cancer, HIV-1 and prostate cancer, among others.

Stockman and VanAlstine-Parris are attacking the trichomoniasis problem from a unique angle. The project funded by the NIH grant will evaluate two nucleoside ribohydrolase enzymes, which catalyze chemical reactions, as targets for novel pharmaceuticals.

The “antitrichomonal drugs” – meaning they act specifically on trichomonas parasites – may also prove effective against infections caused by related parasites, according to Adelphi University.

Essentially, the professors and their students will explore different compounds that could block the nucleoside ribohydrolase enzymes, which the parasites need to survive.

Stockman – who also chairs Adelphi University’s chemistry department and previously spent nearly two decades as a researcher for New York City-based Pfizer Inc., plus another four developing NMR spectroscopy solutions as president of Connecticut-based Ligandfinder LLC – noted the prevalence of strains of trichomoniasis resistant to existing pharmaceuticals.

And yet, “research and development of antitrichomonal agents with novel mechanisms of action is largely nonexistent in the pharmaceutical industry,” the professor added, creating “a perfect opportunity to engage undergraduate students in hypothesis-driven research toward an unmet medical need.”

Susan Briziarelli, acting dean of Adelphi University’s College of Arts and Sciences, called the NIH grant “a great reflection on the quality of highly innovative research projects from the Department of Chemistry faculty.”

“This will build upon Adelphi University’s existing strengths in [science, technology, engineering and math] education and help students gain critical research skills to remain competitive in today’s workforce,” Briziarelli said in a statement.