New Grant to Study Bacterial Agent of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome

Anna Zarra Aldrich, Office of the Vice President for Research

Dr. Sivapriya Kailasan Vanaja, an assistant professor at UConn Health, has received a five-year grant for just under $2 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study the agent that causes hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

HUS is a life-threatening condition that afflicts 96,000 Americans each year. This condition results in low red blood cell counts leading to anemia, the destruction of blood platelets, which are essential to clotting blood to close wounds, and even complete kidney failure due to shrunken blood vessels in the kidneys.

HUS is caused by Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC), a bacteria that colonizes the large intestine in humans. In healthy adults, the body’s innate immune responses prevent colonization of EHEC and HUS onset. However, studies from Dr. Vanaja’s lab indicate that EHEC may be inhibiting these crucial immune response pathways, especially an important pathway called the noncanonical inflammasome pathway.

Currently, treatments for HUS are extremely limited, as antibiotics make the disease more severe. However, an internal pathway such as the noncanonical inflammasome Dr. Vanaja is studying has the potential to eliminate the infection if it is not inhibited by EHEC.

Dr. Vanaja’s research could lead to the future development of more effective treatments for EHEC by utilizing newfound information on how it interferes with the pathway.

Dr. Vanaja received her Ph.D. from Michigan State University in comparative medicine and integrative biology. Her research focuses on learning more about how bacterial pathogens alter and interfere with their host organism’s immune responses.

“Bacterial modulation of noncanonical inflammasome” is NIH grant number 1R01 AI132850-01A1.

(Dr. Sivapriya Kailasan Vanaja, left, and a colleague in a UCH lab/UConn Photo)