Dr. Kempaiah leads an interdisciplinary team of experts in developing molecular diagnostics, in vitro disease models and therapeutics. His team has established long-term research and training collaborations with investigators based within the U.S. and internationally to facilitate the development of diagnostics as well as anti-protozoal, antiviral and immunotherapeutics.
Primary research themes in his laboratory include:
- Development of high-throughput sequencing (HTS) methods for testing new therapeutics against protozoan parasites (such as Plasmodium falciparum, Leishmania spp., Trypanosoma cruzi and Toxoplasma gondii) and viruses, with current efforts focused on micronizing parasite cultures to screen a series of test compounds as an initial step for identifying promising precursors for developing a curated library of designed compounds
- Use of in silico cheminformatics approaches to identify and improve target-specific hits
- Targeted modulation of immune mediators using natural, herbal and pharmacological compounds, as well as mRNA-based gene therapy
- Discovery and modeling of disease-specific biomarkers
- Development of HTS assays. Dr. Kempaiah's lab studies four parasitic diseases to find new therapeutics using HTS assays. His team has developed a robust drug discovery pipeline integrating in silico high through-put virtual screening (HTVS) and in vitro anti-parasitic high-throughput testing approaches for evaluating the new therapeutics.
- Virtual screening of libraries and in-house compounds for design and synthesis of target-based drug molecules. Structure-based drug design is an essential part of the standard drug discovery pipeline. Dr. Kempaiah's lab has adopted multipronged approaches using an in silico pipeline that includes molecular docking and simulation to identify putative targets and mechanism of action.
- Immunotherapeutics. Use of immunotherapy is becoming widely accepted after significant strides have been made in recent years to modulate immune responses and fight diseases that have a poor prognosis with current therapies. Dr. Kempaiah has been testing natural products, FDA-approved and synthetic compounds for immunomodulatory properties using a disease-specific peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and CD34+ stem cells-based erythropoiesis model.
- Biomarker discovery and predictive modeling. Dr. Kempaiah's lab is interested in increasing the utilization of protein biomarkers from peripheral blood for early detection, risk stratification, treatment planning or therapeutic response prediction for various infectious diseases. His collaborative team identifies temporal leukocytic profiles or proteomic biomarkers from peripheral blood for improved patient outcomes.
Significance to patient care
Despite great advances in public health, protozoan parasitic diseases continue to have a tremendous impact on global health and remain a leading cause of morbidity and mortality. The diseases caused by major parasites malaria, leishmaniasis, chagas and toxoplasmosis respectively have a combined disability adjusted life year impact of over 60 million and globally cause close to 1 million deaths.
Although substantial progress in global vector and parasite control has been achieved with significant reductions in mortality, these important gains are contingent on the availability of effective therapeutics. Obstacles to effective treatment include the rapid emergence of drug resistance to commonly used medications coupled with limited availability of second-line therapeutic options and the occurrence of adverse effects. This has created an immediate need to discover new and effective therapeutics that target pathways essential for parasite survival, while reducing or eliminating toxicity and having a beneficial effect to the host.