The ability to cultivate parasites in vitro has resulted in rapid progress in the understanding of host-parasite relationships, parasite biology and pathophysiology. Conversely, the lack of a parasite in vitro culture system can severely hamper studies on that specific pathogen as seen in Babesia microti-caused babesiosis. This is true despite the mounting evidence for the emergence and spread of B. microti in the US and its dominating status as a threat to transfusion medicine. The overall goal of our proposal is to establish a continuous in vitro culture system of B. microti in human RBCs to enable a platform amenable for future experimental investigation. It is well known that human RBCs which serve as the cellular vehicle host for Babesia are not a uniform, homogenous population of cells in circulation and undergo many age related transformations in their 120 day life span. Our hypothesis is that these heterogeneous RBCs are not equal hosts for B. microti invasion and growth. The two specific aims in our proposal will test this hypothesis and assess if parasite invasion and proliferation in human RBCs would occur when presented with a uniform RBC population of the optimum age and features.
Specific Aim 1 addresses the identification of specific human RBC sub-populations that would support optimum invasion and replication of B. microti in vitro and Specific Aim 2 will define culture conditions (gas, media, shaking vs static) needed to support this invasion and replication of B. microti in vitro. By combining our extensive experience in parasitology (Lobo and Narla, P. falciparum and B. divergens) together with the red cell expertise (Narla) and reagents (Human sources of B. microti, umbilical cord cell resources, antibodies, and antigens) available at NYBC, we will obtain insights into the specific RBC lineage favored by B. microti. This study is the first systematic analysis of culture conditions required for parasite propagation and is a necessary first step in the search for reagents for diagnosis, epidemiology, treatment and prevention of human babesiosis, as well as to assist in developing novel methods to screen blood products.

Public Health Relevance

Transfusion transmitted babesiosis has become one of the most commonly reported transfusion-transmitted infections in the United States. Caused primarily by tick- transmitted Babesia microti parasites, it is an emerging illness that is endemic in many areas of the United States. The lack of an in vitro culture system for B. microti has severely impacted studies on the parasite, including the search for suitable diagnostic and blood screening markers for infection. In this application, we propose to establish an in vitro culture system for the parasite in human RBCs by identifying the preferential human RBC population that the parasite invades. Recognizing that Babesia is an expanding blood safety threat we are interested in the development of viable interventions to detect and halt transmission of these pathogens via blood transfusions and establishment of a culture system for the parasite is a necessary first step.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
Program Officer
Zou, Shimian
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
New York Blood Center
New York
United States
Zip Code
Arsuaga, Marta; Gonzalez, Luis M; Lobo, Cheryl A et al. (2016) First Report of Babesia microti-Caused Babesiosis in Spain. Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis 16:677-9
Ord, Rosalynn L; Rodriguez, Marilis; Cursino-Santos, Jeny R et al. (2016) Identification and Characterization of the Rhoptry Neck Protein 2 in Babesia divergens and B. microti. Infect Immun 84:1574-1584
Ord, Rosalynn Louise; Lobo, Cheryl A (2015) Human Babesiosis: Pathogens, Prevalence, Diagnosis and Treatment. Curr Clin Microbiol Rep 2:173-181