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Targeting Killer Bacteria

Research into genetically specific therapies to treat antibiotic-resistant bacteria is the target of a new NIH grant.
Research will examine the potential for genetically specific therapy against pathogenic bacteria, such as <i>Salmonella</i> (pictured above).
Research will examine the potential for genetically specific therapy against pathogenic bacteria, such as Salmonella (pictured above).

Humans are losing the arms race against infectious disease as more and more germs develop resistance to broad-spectrum antibiotics.

Through a new grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, an entity of the National Institutes of Health, San Diego State University will lay the foundation for new treatment therapies, transforming the way infectious diseases are treated.

Awarding 'exceptional, unconventional research'

In collaboration with the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and the University of New Mexico/Los Alamos National Laboratory, San Diego State University has been awarded a EUREKA (Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration) grant, which awards highly innovative research that will have a high impact on public health.

The research will examine the potential for genetically specific therapy against pathogenic bacteria — such as Salmonella, E. coli and Staphylococcus/methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Once you get it working, there are a million other applications for human health.

“Many of the most dangerous bacteria are resistant to the multiple broad-spectrum antibiotics that we use now,” said microbiologist Stanley Maloy, dean of SDSU’s College of Sciences and co-principal investigator on the study. 

“The approach we are taking would allow us to specifically target the bacteria responsible for an infection and develop a specific antibiotic to treat that particular pathogen.”

Developing new and novel approaches to disease treatment

The goal of the project is to develop novel approaches to develop and deliver new antibiotics. They will initially develop antibiotics specific for Salmonella as the proof-of-concept. But once developed, the applications are limitless.

“Once you get it working, there are a million other applications for human health,” Maloy said.

The project will combine research in nanotechnology, metagenomics/comparative genomics and microbiology. It is the first time these three areas of research have been combined to focus on this issue. 

Using comparative genomics, researchers plan to develop a new personalized therapy that will have the ability target dangerous pathogens without damaging beneficial microbes that live in the body. Then, using nano-engineered virus-like particles based upon biomimicry, antimicrobial agents can be delivered selectively and efficiently to kill only the pathogenic bacteria.

Campaign Flag

Maloy's research is one of many ways SDSU faculty are leading innovation and discovery, a key initiative of the Campaign for SDSU. With a unique focus on the teacher-scholar model, SDSU attracts researchers interested in solving the world’s most pressing problems, while showing students how to provide future solutions. Learn more about how SDSU leads innovation and discovery, and how you can contribute.

Redesigning treatments when needed

According to Maloy, this method can be applied to a wide variety of pathogens and treatments can be continually redesigned as pathogens evolve resistance.

“These types of antibiotic-resistant strains are constantly changing and we need therapies that can keep up,” Maloy said.

Maloy will lead the SDSU team of researchers providing expertise in bacterial genetics and physiology, identifying potential targets and testing the antimicrobial activity against the treatments developed.

The bioinformatics portion of the research study will be led by Eric Jakobsson with the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. The virus-like particles have been invented and will be further developed by a group led by nanotechnologist Jeffrey Brinker from Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico.

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