Network to Focus on Fighting Disease-Causing Bacteria

November 30, 2009 - News Release

A University of Guelph microbiologist will help lead a new international research network hoping to find better ways to fight disease-causing bacteria, including microbes that cause hard-to-treat hospital infections and dangerous gut ailments.

The new network - 17 leading scientists from Canada and 27 from the United Kingdom - was launched with $120,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Medical Research Council in the United Kingdom. That funding came under the Canada-U.K. joint health research program on antibiotic resistance.

Principal investigator Prof. Anthony Clarke, U of G’s assistant vice-president (academic) and a faculty member in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, said the group members aim to find new treatments against microbes that are fast developing resistance to existing drugs.

Infection-causing microbes have evolved ways to elude some of our most powerful antibiotics, he said. Those bugs include methicillin- resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE), which pose a growing threat to hospital patients with weakened immune systems.

“We just want to stay one step ahead,” said Clarke. “The bugs will always find a way around.”

He and a British co-applicant are planning a major network conference in England this fall and a second meeting in Canada next spring.

The group will focus on finding new treatments and strengthening existing remedies that target bacterial cell walls. Components on cell walls enable bacteria to attack host cells and defend themselves from drugs and the body’s immune system.

Clarke has long worked on these components, including enzymes that make bacterial peptidoglycans, the targets of penicillin and other drugs. Referring to MRSA and VRE, he said: “Two major clinical problems of infectious disease relate directly to the peptidoglycan wall layer.”

Nearby scientists in this new network include researchers at the University of Western Ontario, McMaster University and the University of Toronto.

Clarke said the project, called the U.K.-Canadian Bacterial Cell Wall Biosynthesis Network, will bring together researchers in new ways.

“Some of the potential new collaborations could have happened anyway, but you don’t always recognize opportunities if you’re not sitting there together.”

He added that academic research on antimicrobial resistance is particularly important because most large drug companies no longer work in this field.

Bhagirath Singh, scientific director of CIHR’s Institute of Infection and Immunity, said antibiotic re- sistance “is a major health research priority for us. Dr. Clarke’s research into understanding why superbugs have adapted to resist antibiotics and finding alternative treatments and drugs is crucial to staying ahead of these disease-causing bacteria and saving the lives of many people around the world.”

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, Ext. 53338,, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982,

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