University of Pittsburgh
June 21, 2009

Unraveling How Parasites Match Up to Hosts Nets Pitt Professor Prestigious Pew Scholarship

Biological sciences professor Jon Boyle is selected as Pitt's first Pew Scholar, a camp that includes researchers from the nation's top institutions and two Nobel laureates
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH-University of Pittsburgh professor Jon Boyle's ongoing investigation into the unique molecular relationship between disease-causing microorganisms and their hosts has earned him recognition by the Pew Charitable Trusts as a 2009 Pew Scholar in Biomedical Sciences, an honor he shares with some of the nation's top researchers, including two Nobel laureates. An assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in Pitt's School of Arts and Sciences, Boyle is the first Pitt professor to receive the award.

Boyle, who will receive $240,000 over four years to support his research, was among 17 early-career scientists the Pew Trusts identified as "displaying outstanding promise in research relevant to the advancement of human health." Fellow 2009 recipients include researchers from Columbia University, Harvard University, Princeton University, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania.

In his research, Boyle investigates the molecular factors that make pathogenic microorganisms and their hosts compatible. In particular, he studies the microorganism "Toxoplasma gondii," the pathogen that causes Toxoplasmosis in humans as well as various mammals and bird species. Closely related to the microorganism that causes malaria, "T. gondii's" wide range of hosts makes it a good candidate for identifying the parasite genes that determine virulence, and then exploring the effects of these molecules in different hosts, including mice and humans. Boyle and others have identified proteins within "T. gondii" that determine virulence, including one called ROP18 that can transform a benign strain of the microorganism into a lethal one. Uncovering the mechanism of these proteins could provide further understanding of the host-pathogen relationship at the molecular level and help in the development of more effective treatments for such diseases as Toxoplasmosis.

Boyle came to Pitt in 2008 after completing his postdoctoral research in molecular parasitology in the lab of John Boothroyd in Stanford University's School of Medicine. He received his PhD in molecular parasitology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison School of Veterinary Medicine in 2003, studying under professor Timothy P. Yoshino. Boyle received his bachelor's degree in molecular biology from the University of Montana in 1995.

During its 25-year history, the Pew scholar program has recognized more than 460 researchers, including such notable scientists as 1992 scholar Roderick MacKinnon of Rockefeller University, who won a 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and 1995 scholar Craig C. Mello of the University of Massachusetts, recipient of a 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The program has provided more than $125 million in research support. More information on the scholarship program is available on the Pew Scholars Website at www.pewscholars.org

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