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John V. Cox of UTHSC Receives $600,000 Grant for Research Offering Insights Into Chlamydia Pathogenesis

Dr. Cox has been awarded $600,000 to study the pathogenesis of Chlamydia. (Photo by Allen Gillespie/UTHSC)

John V. Cox, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry, and associate dean in the College of Graduate Health Sciences at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has been awarded a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are increasingly common in the United States. Among the most frequently diagnosed is Chlamydia, and women who are infected can develop a wide range of serious reproductive health problems, including infertility and ectopic pregnancy.

“The problem is two-fold,” Dr. Cox said. “About 10 percent of women who are infected are asymptomatic, they don’t know they’re infected. Yet these women can still go on to develop these serious reproductive health issues.”

“In addition, women who develop symptoms as a consequence of the infection are prescribed broad-spectrum antibiotics. While these antibiotics resolve the infection, they also kill a large percentage of our normal resident bacteria that actually help us.”

Dr. Cox explained that some data now suggests that altering the genital tract microbiome by treatment with broad-spectrum antibiotics may create a situation where individuals who undergo treatment are more susceptible to re-infection by Chlamydia. One of the long-term goals of the research by Dr. Cox, along with Michael A. Whitt, PhD, professor and chair in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry at UTHSC, is to develop Chlamydia-specific therapeutics that would kill Chlamydia but not affect the healthy and useful bacteria that reside in the genital tract.

“The goal of the research that is funded by this NSF grant is to define mechanisms that regulate the novel cell division process of Chlamydia. Once we understand these processes, we may be able to develop specific therapies to eliminate Chlamydia genital tract infections and avoid the unwanted consequences of broad-spectrum antibiotic therapies.”

Dr. Cox’s research project is entitled, “Collaborative Research: Mechanism of Polarized Budding in Chlamydia.”