Taking the bite out of a tissue-dissolving parasitic amoebozoa
Note: This interview was conducted in spring 2017, when Shea Feeney was a 2016/17 Business Development Fellow.
Shea Feeney received her B.S. with a double major in biochemistry and cellular & molecular biology from San Francisco State University in 2014. That fall she joined the UC Davis Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology graduate group and is now a Ph.D. candidate.
What’s important about your research—and where do you hope to take it?
My dissertation research is focused on the eukaryotic pathogen Entamoeba histolytica (histo-: tissue; lytic-: dissolving). This is responsible for the global disease amoebiasis, which can result in profound tissue damage and global morbidity. My overall goal is to define key virulence factors in E. histolytica to identify targets for novel therapeutics.
Current treatment is severely limited, with no available vaccine and a toxic drug that E. histolytica can become rapidly resistant to. We have recently discovered that amoebae kill human cells by the process of trogocytosis (trogo-: nibble), however, the mechanism is almost entirely unknown. By defining the mechanism of trogocytosis, I aim to uncover new targets for therapeutics. Importantly, by using the alternative strategy of targeting trogocytosis as a virulence factor rather than killing the pathogen, we aim to uncover new therapeutics that avoid the problem of drug resistance.
What are you most passionate about in your work?
I’m passionate about doing research that could have a real, positive impact on people’s health and quality of life. I am very excited about the possibility of identifying novel targets for my research and moving it forward into research for pre-clinical therapeutics for amoebic dysentery. Since other pathogens also appear to use trogocytosis to kill host cells, it’s exciting that this work may be broadly relevant to the development of therapeutics for multiple infectious diseases.
How will what you learn as a Business Development Fellow help you change the world?
This has been such a fantastic learning experience. It’s really changed my perspective—I’m not just evaluating ideas from whether it’s scientifically interesting or sound, but considering whether it makes sense from a business angle, too. I’ve learned so much, and I know it will be very useful to me when applying this knowledge to future ventures. I can’t wait to take that leap into applying research from the “bench” to “business” to “bedside.”
What is the most valuable lesson or experience you have had through the fellows program?
Networking is critical! I really value all the new connections I’ve made. I am grateful to have had such an incredible group of peers in the BD and MBA programs and wonderful professors. Also, the concept to try and “fail early and fail often” has really been ingrained in me, and it’s actually a motivating boost to get started rather than staying stuck attached to one idea.