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Veterinary researcher to use $3 million-plus NIH grant to develop vaccines for several tick-borne diseases

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Roman Ganta

Roman Ganta, professor of diagnostic medicine and director of Kansas State University's Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Diseases. | Download this photo.


MANHATTAN — Roman Ganta, director of the Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Diseasesin the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, has received a $3.125 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue his longtime work on tick-borne diseases.

This is the second major highly competitive NIH R01 grant secured by Ganta within a year. The research focus for this grant is to develop vaccines against several important tick-borne diseases that affect human and animal health.

Previously, Ganta has received several grants from the NIH under the R01 research grant program:
$2.7 million in 2019, $1.8 million in 2014, $1.8 million in 2007, and $1.7 million in 2002. Ganta also received NIH funding through P20, R13 and R56 grants.

The goals of Ganta's research with the previously funded grants are to study pathogenesis, host immune response and develop novel genetic tools to combat human monocytic ehrlichiosis, or HME, caused by the rickettsial bacterium, Ehrlichia chaffeensis. With new funding, Ganta will work to develop vaccines against HME and other important tick-borne diseases caused by several Ehrlichia and Anaplasma species pathogens.

"Tick-borne diseases have been continuously emerging in the U.S. and many parts of the world for over four decades and remain a threat to the health of people, dogs and farm animals," said Ganta, a professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology.

Ganta's research at K-State since 1998 remains at the forefront in tackling various tick-borne diseases with a primary focus on pathogenesis, surveillance, diagnosis and disease prevention with funding received from federal, foundation and industry sources. He credits the successful progress that he and his research team have made over the last two decades in securing a second NIH R01 grant even while the other grant is still active.

"Our prior NIH-funded studies have demonstrated the feasibility of developing live attenuated vaccines for the first time for Ehrlichia species pathogens," Ganta said. "Live attenuated vaccine development is feasible using our recently patented technology of targeted mutagenesis that is broadly applicable for several rickettsial diseases caused by Ehrlichia and Anaplasma species pathogens. This is the foundation for the new five-year NIH grant."

Ganta anticipates making substantial progress toward developing vaccines that will be suitable to combat various tick-borne diseases affecting the health of people, dogs and various vertebrate hosts.

Ganta has been continuously funded by the NIH to pursue research on HME since 2002 and the latest grant pushes that funding to 2025. Ongoing NIH-funded research supports investigations on how Ehrlichia chaffeensis regulates its gene expression in response to tick and vertebrate host environmental signals and how it develops strategies to evade host immunity for its persistent survival in vertebrate hosts and ticks.