U of G Scientist Heads Multimillion-Dollar Effort to Combat Bacterial Diseases

August 15, 2011 - News Release

New drugs to fight killer bacterial diseases are the hoped-for goal of a new multimillion-dollar research project led by a University of Guelph microbiologist.

The project twins leading researchers from Canada and the United Kingdom in the hunt for new ways to combat infection-causing bacteria. The group will study pathogens that cause many hospital- and community-acquired infections, including organisms that are increasingly impervious to existing antibiotics, said Prof. Anthony Clarke, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, who led the project application.

“Millions of people die each year from bacterial infections, and tens of millions suffer from the consequences of these infections,” he said. “Every 20 seconds, someone dies of tuberculosis alone.”

The Canadian scientists will receive $500,000 a year for four years from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Their U.K. counterparts will receive the same amount from the U.K. Medical Research Council.

In 2010, the two agencies announced a new team grant called “Canada-U.K. Partnership on Antibiotic Resistance.”

Bacteria have rigid, insoluble cell walls made of peptidoglycan, or linked sugars and amino acids, Clarke explained. By targeting proteins that cement those building blocks together, the researchers hope to stop cell walls from forming and kill the bacteria.

That’s how penicillin works, said Clarke, but many important pathogenic bacteria have evolved to resist that drug and other antibiotics. “We need to fight back.”

The Canadian research team involves scientists from Guelph, the University of British Columbia, McMaster University and Laval University. They are working with seven researchers from five universities in the United Kingdom.

Group members include experts in microbiology, genetics, biochemistry, physics, engineering and mathematics.

Collaborators at the University of Warwick’s synthesis facility will send materials called metabolites to Canada. Here, researchers will develop assays for a high-throughput screening facility at McMaster, where scientists will search tens of thousands of samples for likely drug targets.

Team researchers hope to find new weapons against resistant bacteria, including Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

Clarke said the group’s exploratory work may help point drug companies toward promising treatments. “By the end of the four years, we hope to have identified new potential targets,” said the Guelph researcher, whose lab studies the organism that causes gonorrhea.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, lhunt@uoguelph.ca; or Shiona Mackenzie, Ext. 56982, shiona@uoguelph.ca.

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