Public Release:  Contributions to diagnosis, treatment of tropical diseases recognized

Virginia Tech

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IMAGE: Graduate student Michelle Oppenheimer and Pablo Sobrado examine a beaker in Sobrado's Fralin Life Science Institute laboratory. view more

Credit: Virginia Tech photo

Pablo Sobrado, assistant professor of biochemistry at Virginia Tech, has been awarded Costa Rica's 2011 National Technology Prize, administered by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MICIT). The jury noted that Sobrado's research is "a significant contribution to the diagnosis and treatment of infectious and tropical diseases," according to a release distributed my MICIT.

Sobrado, an affiliated faculty member with the Fralin Life Science Institute (http://www.fralin.vt.edu) at Virginia Tech, researches issues related to Chagas Disease, tuberculosis, and fungal infections, which are caused by the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus. The diseases infect more than 20 million people worldwide, yet current treatment is expensive and minimally effective.

Specifically, Sobrado studies enzymes involved in the biosynthesis of siderophores, which are molecules required for iron uptake during fungal infections. His group also studies enzymes that make a rare sugar only found in some human pathogens. The sugar, known as galactofuranose, is important for pathogen-host interaction and cell wall biosynthesis.

Sobrado received the technology award for his work in identifying the mechanism of action of these enzymes, and for the design and development of two assays that allow his team to identify specific inhibitors against these enzymes. The assays were optimized for high-throughput screening of small molecular libraries.

Ultimately, Sobrado's team strives to identify enzyme inhibitors that might be used to develop chemotherapeutic drugs. The majority of the research takes place in Fralin Hall, where Sobrado maintains an active research lab and biotechnology internship program.

"The technologies developed in our laboratory provide us with a unique opportunity for the identification of inhibitors against enzymes that are important for pathogenesis in several human diseases," Sobrado said. "We are very honored to receive this award from the Costa Rican government. It fuels our commitment and dedication to drug discovery."

Sobrado will accept the award at the National Theatre in Costa Rica on May 15. The MICIT National Technology Prize is given annually in conjunction with the National Science Award. Both are meant to recognize the best original research work carried out and disclosed individually or collectively by Costa Rican citizens in the fields of scientific and technological research.

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Learn more about Dr. Sobrado at www.fralin.vt.edu/affiliated-faculty/pablo-sobrado

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