USF gets grant for brain-eating amoeba drug

Researchers at the University of South Florida are hoping to develop a fast-acting drug to battle a deadly brain-eating amoeba, often found in Florida lakes, with the help of a new grant.

The grant from the National Institutes of Health is for $425,000 for the first two years of a five-year funding period, which could amount to $1.7 million over the five years.

The money will help researchers identify drugs that could lead to fast-acting treatments for Acanthamoeba spp., as well as Naegleria fowleri, which is commonly found in warm freshwater lakes and rivers, and in soil.

"Our ultimate goal for this project is to develop at least one new fast-acting drug that could be combined with existing therapies to significantly increase survival rates of patients who contract FLA infections of the central nervous system," said principal investigator Dennis Kyle, PhD, USF Health professor.

The team at USF would work closely with a chemistry professor at Georgia State University, which makes the antimicrobial compounds USF is working to develop.

The amoeba causes amoebic meningoencephalits, a rare and fatal disease that kills more than 97 percent of those who contract it within days. The victims contract the amoeba through contaminated water that goes through the nose while swimming. The amoeba then travels to the brain, where it destroys brain tissue.

Most of the cases tracked by the CDC have been in Florida, California, and Texas.

Despite the poor prognosis of these two emerging infectious diseases, their rarity has made them "orphan" diseases with no concerted efforts to discover new drugs to treat them, Dr. Kyle said.

Researchers hope to change that by finding an effective treatment.