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Arnold School of Public Health

ENHS Microbial Interactions Laboratory receives $1.4 million NIH grant to bolster antibiotics

June 15, 2016 | Erin Bluvas, 

The Microbial Interactions Laboratory (Decho Lab), led by Environmental Health Sciences Professor and Associate Dean of Research Alan Decho, has received a $1.4 million RO1 grant from the National Institutes of Health. The Decho Lab will collaborate with Associate Professor and Principle Investigator Chuanbing Tang and Associate Professor Maksymilian Chruszcz—both from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry—on the four-year project, titled “Establishing a New Paradigm of Metallopolymers to Reinstate Vitality of Antibiotics Against Multidrug Resistant Bacteria.”

This study will explore a new compound that may help thwart antibiotic resistance. “A metallopolymer compound, when administered with simple penicillin, is able to kill bacteria that are normally resistant to multiple antibiotics,” explains Decho. “It does this by blocking an enzyme that normally destroys penicillin.”

Bacterial infections continue to remain a critical global healthcare issue despite important developments in modern medicine, such as β-lactam antibiotics, which have saved millions of lives and continue to serve as an important therapy to treat bacterial infections. Although bacterial infections are not new, the ever-increasing emergence of bacteria resistance to traditional antibiotics is a puzzling issue for scientists and clinicians in battling infectious diseases.

“Unfortunately, bacteria are rapidly developing resistance to frequently used antibiotics,” says Decho. “For example, nearly 30 percent of hospital-acquired infections are identified as strains that are resistant to penicillin, methicillin, and many other β-lactam antibiotics. This can lead to serious infections and other problems for patients, and are currently responsible for over 50,000 deaths per year in the U.S. and Europe.”

Many of the most effective antibiotics begin as the best performing of their class, and are, in turn, prescribed often. The high-frequency use of these superior drugs then results in bacterial resistance, decreasing the antibiotics’ efficacy. The vicious circle continues when the next class of antibiotics is developed to replace its previously high-performing predecessors.  

The researchers’ study will approach the problem from another angle by developing a new paradigm of metallopolymers to reinstate the vitality of conventional antibiotics. This research will have a significant impact on advancing the development of novel antimicrobial agents to successfully fight bacterial infections.

Related: ENHS Microbial Interactions Laboratory receives $390,000 grant from NSF to develop antimicrobial materials

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