‘This is not a trivial healthcare problem’

Photo by Matt Modoono.

Neglected tropical diseases—a group of parasitic and bacterial diseases that impair physical and cognitive development—represent one of the global health community’s biggest problems. Indeed, NTDs afflict more than 1 billion people worldwide, the vast majority of whom live in society’s poorest, most marginalized communities.

“This is not a trivial healthcare problem,” says associate professor Michael Pollastri during a TED-style talk on Monday.

Pollastri is one of the world’s leading experts on NTDs, including malaria and sleeping sickness. As director of Northeastern’s Laboratory for Neglected Disease Drug Discovery, he oversees an interdisciplinary team of researchers and industry collaborators who work to repurpose existing drugs to fight these deadly maladies.

“The best way to discover a new drug is to start with an old one,” he explains. “What we do is take a drug that is FDA approved, test it against parasites, and then reengineer it to be more active against parasites without killing human cells.”

As he puts it, “We are committed to finding the next generation of drugs for those suffering from infections diseases, particularly for the very poor.”