NWC receives federal grant for research on antiparasitic drugs

Northwestern College has been awarded a $197,466 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for research Dr. Ralph Davis is conducting on antiparasitic drugs.

Davis, associate professor of biology, joined Northwestern’s faculty in 2000 after 13 years as a research scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He pioneered studies of the neurophysiology of the nematode (roundworm) nervous system 25 years ago. In 2001, he was awarded a $576,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue his basic research on the worms’ nervous system.

Davis’ new grant will fund three years of research on several compounds that hold promise as the next generation of antiparasitic drugs. Using neurophysiological and neuropharmacological techniques, Davis will seek to determine the drugs’ mechanisms of action and targets.

Parasitic nematodes are among the world’s leading disease-causing organisms. One species found in humans affects an estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide—approximately one-fourth of the planet.

Several species of nematodes live in the intestinal tract of their hosts, consuming up to one-third of the food ingested by the host. “They are a hidden cause of malnutrition,” says Davis, adding that they can lead to diarrhea and respiratory disease.

Davis’ previous research has contributed to the development of drugs to paralyze the worms so they can be expelled by the host. New and different drugs continually are in demand since the worms can develop resistance to paralytic agents currently on the market.

 The worms Davis studies come from the intestinal tracts of hogs, and his research applies to developing drugs to combat hog parasites as well, improving pig nutrition and weight gain.