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Rozario receives NIH Director’s New Innovator Award

Wednesday, March 24, 2021 - 11:52am
By:
Alan Flurry

One of UGA's newest faculty members, Tania Rozario has received a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award Program, which supports early-career investigators of exceptional creativity who propose high-risk, high-reward research projects:

Rozario is an assistant professor with a joint appointment in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences Department of Genetics and the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases.

Among the study of tropical diseases worldwide—and particularly among the parasites that cause disease—worms are a largely neglected disease agent, despite being a source of widespread problems that affect both health and economic output. Even within the study of worms, parasitic flatworms like tapeworms represent an understudied group. However, free-living flatworms like planarians are the focus of significant research because of the organism’s dynamic regenerative capacity, which presents intriguing parallels to their parasitic cousins.

Planarian flatworms cut in two will make two new worms, and cut into 10 pieces will result in 10 worms. They are the Ferrari of regenerators, according to Rozario.

“As part of its normal life cycle, a tapeworm sheds large parts of its body and then regrows this lost tissue,” Rozario said. “It has this natural regenerative-like ability, which is very promising from a basic biology standpoint, to understand how stem cells and regeneration functions in these worms.”

Taking advantage of both extensive past research and the much more sophisticated tools of today, Rozario envisions a melding of developmental biology with parasitology as a new approach to understand the parasite. She is using the rat tapeworm, Hymenolepis diminuta, to re-establish a model organism that had been a favorite model among parasitologists in the early-mid 20th century but was left behind by the molecular biology revolution.

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