Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have been awarded a $6.5 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop a new anti-microbial compound to target bacterial pathogens such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli.
Though many anti-microbial drugs are available in the marketplace, new ones are needed to combat the increasing microbial resistance to antibiotics. Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are two recent examples of diseases that have become increasingly difficult to treat.
“This grant award represents a terrific opportunity to continue profoundly important work to develop an entirely new type of anti microbial compound,” said Dr. Michael Norgard, chairman of microbiology at UT Southwestern. “With this award, the National Institutes of Health has recognized not only the importance and novelty of the project, but also the outstanding team here at UT Southwestern devoted to its successful completion.”
Existing antibiotics are derived from five types of compounds, or chemical structures, and have only three targets: DNA replication in bacteria, protein synthesis and synthesis of the cell wall.
“We are investigating a new target area in bacteria that appears to be vulnerable to a small molecule that has never before been used as a drug,” said Dr. Vanessa Sperandio, associate professor of microbiology and principal investigator on the new grant. “The drug compound has shown promise in fighting at least three different bacterial species including Salmonella, E. coli and Francisella tularensis, which causes tularemia.”
Dr. Sperandio said the five-year grant will provide the necessary funding to bring her team’s research up to the preclinical level.
“We’ve done some preliminary toxicology and the drug seems to be well tolerated, but more testing is needed to be able to say whether it’s safe for use in humans,” she said.
Dr. Sperandio’s research has focused on understanding a strain of E. coli known as enterohemorrhagic E. coli 0157:H7, or EHEC. Her research focuses on how bacteria living inside the human body – both the helpful ones and the ones that make people sick – communicate with one another and with their host. She’s particularly interested in the biochemical signals EHEC uses to cause disease.