In 1998, Boris Striepen, PhD, met Prof. William Trager, PhD, a past president of ASTMH who established in vitro
culture conditions for Plasmodium
parasites and thereby directly enabled almost all of the current fields of basic and applied malaria research. Dr. Striepen had called Prof. Trager at his office and asked if they could meet. Turned out it was Prof. Trager’s last day at work.
“After meeting me, he went to his retirement luncheon and then he was done,” Dr. Striepen recalled. “I was really impressed with that. He took the time on his last day to talk with a post-doc.”
The meeting was somewhat prescient. At the 2017 ASTMH Annual Meeting, November 5-9, Dr. Striepen received the William Trager Award for Basic Parasitology. The award, established in 2015 by the American Committee of Molecular, Cellular and Immunoparasitology (ACMCIP), a subgroup of ASTMH, recognizes a fundamental breakthrough in molecular, cellular or immunoparasitology. The Trager Award is not a career recognition award, but recognizes a recent breakthrough in basic parasitology that has been published, usually with the nominee as corresponding author, in the last two to 15 years.
Dr. Striepen, who is based at the University of Pennsylvania, was honored for reorienting part of his laboratory to develop molecular tools to study Cryptosporidium parvum
. Studying C. parvum
has been challenging for researchers, and there is a lack of drug treatments and no vaccine – in part because there have been no useful models. Plus, the ability to perform basic genetics on this organism has restricted the field. The development of genetic tools needed for studying this organism was considered unsolvable because of C. parvum
’s unique lifecycle and cell biology.
In 2015, Dr. Striepen’s group achieved the long-sought goal of transfecting Cryptosporidium
, making it possible to study its unusual sexual replication. His work established that genetic manipulation of Cryptosporidium
is possible and provided a toolbox that allows multiple forward and reverse genetic approaches to be used to investigate the biology of this important genus. Additionally, this advance now allows experiments with Cryptosporidium
that are standard for other microbes, with the potential to provide new insights into its ecology and evolution, and how it interacts with its host and the microbiome.
The study of Cryptosporidium
is now a priority for several public and private funding agencies including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr. Striepen is the recipient of independent support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as the Wellcome Trust in the U.K.
“It’s fantastic. I am humbled by this award and honored to receive an award named after (Prof. Trager),” Dr. Striepen said.
He also has followed the example Prof. Trager provided him all those years ago.
"Trainees and education are really close to my heart," he said. "I have been associated with the Biology of Parasitism Summer research course
at the MBL (the Marine Biological Laboratory, a private, nonprofit institution and an affiliate of the University of Chicago) for almost 20 years and among other things, served as its director. This is a marvelous opportunity for grad students, post-docs and new faculty to get truly advanced hands-on training."
Dr. Striepen also recommends the ASTMH Annual Meeting for post-docs, students and trainees, and he has some advice for anyone attending: “Have meals with people you don’t know. Find new friends and see that you come back home with more interactions and more connections than you had when you went there. Learn about somebody and their research and open your mind to things that you have not thought about before,” he said.