Chemistry professors work to find a weapon against the untreatable superbug


For the first time, a strain of colistin-resistant E. coli was identified in the U.S. in April. Although new to the country, the "super" superbug is not new to several chemistry professors at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., who have spent the last decade researching treatments for such drug-resistant pathogens.

"The recent announcement of the discovery of a superbug that is resistant to colistin is a major public health concern; these bacteria are now resistant to our last-line defense antibiotics used to treat these infections," said Rachel Powers, PhD, associate professor of chemistry. "In our lab, this has provided even more motivation to find novel ways that our research can contribute in the fight to overcome bacterial resistance."

For years, Dr. Powers and two other chemistry professors — Brad Wallar, PhD, and David Leonard, PhD — have studied pathogens similar to this new, rare type of colistin-resistant E. coli. Now, the research team is examining beta-lactamase, a mechanism of antibiotic resistance, to combat the E. coli strain.

"Most people are familiar with specific beta-lactam antibiotics, such as penicillin and amoxicillin," said Dr. Powers. "We're looking at ways of taking the resistant bacteria that contain beta-lactamase enzymes out of commission by blocking the activity of the beta-lactamase."

To block the beta-lactamase activity, the team used a process called crystallography, which involves growing microscopic beta-lactamase enzyme crystals and then shooting high-energy X-ray beams through the crystals to measure diffraction data.

Ultimately, this process could help create electron density maps that show where inhibitors could potentially bind to the enzymes and prevent antibiotic resistance.



More articles on superbugs:
Pittsburgh hospitals focus on stewardship after 'super' superbug found in Penn.
Untreatable superbug makes its way to US for first time: 6 things to know
Olympus sought higher prices for their scopes after equipment linked to superbug outbreaks

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