Karishma Tolani

Karishma Tolani
Karishma Tolani works in Pablo Sobrado's laboratory in Fralin Hall.

Tolani to publish in Analytical Biochemistry


Once the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus enters the human body, it can become pathogenic to some individuals. 

Found in soil and decaying matter, such as compost heaps, the fungus produces spores that become airborne and can be inhaled. Once the fungus enters the body it is quickly combated by the immune system. However, in individuals who have compromised immune systems, the fungus causes chronic pulmonary infections that can infect the brain or heart.  The fungus is one the most common infections in individuals with AIDS or asthma, and can be found in patients in intensive care units or organ transplant recipients.

Thus, developing a drug for this potentially fatal fungus is crucial.

Karishma Tolani, a junior majoring in chemistry, works with Af Sid A, an enzyme within the fungus that is necessary for Aspergillus fumigatus to survive in human bodies.

Working with Pablo Sobrado, associate professor of biochemistry and an affiliated faculty member with the Fralin Life Science Institute, as well as postdoctoral associate Karina Kizhakina, Tolani screened a library of 2,023 compounds using a robot that conducted high through-put screening. The hope was that one of these compounds would deactivate the enzyme, thus providing insight into a compound that may later serve as a drug for the fungus.

"Each compound is tested at a certain concentration with a dye, which will allow us to see if it is displaced or not," Tolani said. "This level of displacement will tell us if the compound will deactivate the enzyme."

Tolani and her team found five compounds that demonstrated the ability to deactivate Af Sid A. The paper that resulted, "A  fluorescent polarization binding assay to identify inhibitors of flavin-dependent monooxygenases,” will be published next month in theAnalytical Biochemistry with Tolani listed as a contributing author. Getting published as a junior has been "one of my greatest achievements," Tolani said.

Tolani has also participated in two poster sessions, one at the Southeastern Enzyme Conference in Atlanta, GA, and another at Virginia Tech's Undergraduate Research Symposium. Because Tolani found five compounds that deactive the enzyme, in summer 2012, she will work directly with the fungus, not just the enzyme. If the compounds deactivate the enzyme in living Aspergiullus fumagatus, Tolani's work could ultimately lead to the development of drugs that help immune-compromised individuals combat the fungus.

Tolani is part of the Scieneering program and will participate in Fralin's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program during summer 2012, in which she will receive funding to continue work on the fungus. She is also taking pre-med classes and is actively involved in her sorority, Gamma Phi Beta. Tolani hopes to attend the University of South Carolina's medical school after she graduates.