Hugo Daniel Lujan
Fellow: Awarded 2010
Field of Study: Medicine and Health
Competition: Latin America & Caribbean
Argentinean Hugo Lujan is a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry in the Universidad Católica de Córdoba’s School of Medicine and a Principal Investigator with CONICET. One of the consistent focuses of his research has been parasite differentiation and adaptation. During his graduate work in the lab of Delia H. Bronia in the Department of Biological Chemistry at the Universidad de Nacional de Córdoba (Ph.D., 1991), he principally studied the biomembrane destabilization induced by the various developmental forms of Trypsanoma cruzi, the parasite responsible for Chagas’ disease, and wrote his dissertation on that subject. In addition, during his predoctoral years, he, Dr. Bronia, and other members of her group published an article on the subject in Biochemical and Cellular Biology: “Trypanosoma cruzi: Involvement of proteolytic activity during cell fusion induced by epimastigote forms” (1989). Even after he left Argentina for postdoctoral work at the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases (1992-95), which is part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health (NIAID/NIH), he continued collaborating with the Bronia group, and two more articles detailing their findings followed: “Effect of gangliosides in Trypanosoma cruzi infection in mice,” in Life Sciences (1993); and “Intermembrane lipid transfer during human erythrocyte fusion induced by Trypanosoma cruzi,” in Parasitology (1994).
During his years at NIAID/NIH, his focus shifted to the parasite Giardia lamblia, especially its defensive differentiation into cysts, and working under the supervision of Theodore E. Nash, he made significant advances, including discovering the environmental stimulus that triggers encystation, developing a panel of monoclonal antibodies to cyst walls that were useful not only in diagnostic testing but a big step toward understanding how these walls are formed, and greatly expanding the understanding of the biochemistry and cell biology of this parasite.
He returned in 1997 to Argentina, where he took up positions as an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at UNC, and as a member of CONICET; in 2005 he moved his lab to the School of Medicine at Universidad Católica de Córdoba. As head of his own labs at these universities, he continued his studies of Giardia lamblia, and among other noteworthy discoveries his group showed that non-coding RNAs regulate the process of antigenic variation that protect Giardia from being attacked by humans’ immune systems. Their findings were published as “Antigenic variation in Giardia lamblia is regulated by RNA interference” in Nature (2008). His research has advanced to the point that during his Guggenheim Fellowship he will work toward a vaccine against Giardia and other parasites.
An impressive number of Dr. Lujan’s dozens of articles have appeared in such important journals as Molecular Microbiology, Journal of Biological Chemistry, European Journal of Epidemiology, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. He is also editor of and contributor to Giardia: A Model Organism (Springer Verlag, 2011). In 2000 and again in 2005 he was named an International Scholar of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the Infectious Diseases and Parasitology Program, one of the few Latin Americans to succeed in that worldwide competition.
His work has been supported not only by the NIH, CONICET, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, but also by FONCYT, the Council for Science and Technology of Cordoba, the Antorchas Foundation, the World Health Organization, and the International Foundation for Sciences. In turn, Hugo Lujan has been supportive of the development of other scholars, mentoring technicians and undergraduate students and supervising numerous doctoral candidates in his lab.