Superbugs have a new foe

BSI researchers search DNA for ways to battle bacteria resistant to antibiotics

DNAThe National Institutes of Health awarded FIU researchers nearly $2 million to study how targeting bacterial DNA can be used to kill antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

If successful, the one-of-a-kind work of Biomolecular Sciences Institute (BSI) researchers Yuk-Ching Tse-Dinh and 
Fenfei Leng
 could lead to new treatments for people infected with bacteria that don’t respond to current antibiotics.

Tse-Dinh, BSI’s director, received a four-year $1.3 million grant to advance her research studying how an enzyme might be targeted to interrupt the process used by bacteria to grow – specifically, the enzyme that helps bacterial DNA split and recombine.

“We want to kill the bacteria, either by making the enzyme unable to do its work on the DNA structure or by turning the enzyme into an enemy of the cell,” she said.

At least 2 million people in the United States are infected annually with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, according to the Centers for Disease Control. World health leaders are concerned that there are not enough new medications being developed to treat tuberculosis, pneumonia or urinary tract infections that have adapted to prevent antibiotics from working, according to a report from the World Health Organization.

With a two-year $470,000 award, Leng is testing thousands of chemical compounds at a time using a method developed at FIU to more quickly see which have the highest potential to block a bacterial enzyme called DNA gyrase from working correctly, killing the bug.

“We have already reached all the potentials of current antibiotics targeting this essential enzyme, that’s what makes our work more urgent,” Leng said.

This work could provide a breakthrough in replacing the current set of drugs used to treat respiratory and urinary tract infections.


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