Although enterococci are naturally found in the intestinal tract, outside the intestinal walls they can cause endocarditis, meningitis or bladder, prostate and urinary-tract infections, Hancock said. Routine hospital procedures also can facilitate the transmission of bacteria from patient to patient.
Under normal circumstances these infections could be eliminated by using antibiotics. Enterococci, however, like many other types of bacteria, have developed the ability to form 3-D tower-like structures called biofilms, Hancock said. The formation of the biofilm enables the bacterial cells to cluster together, resisting both antibiotic penetration and the host's immune system.
"The biofilm creates a lifestyle that really enhances survival of the bacteria, both within the patient and out in the environment, even on common medical devices such as catheters and stents," Hancock said.
Hancock's initial investigations have shown that within the community of bacteria certain cells are targeted for death using specific signals. Once the cell dies, the DNA from that dead cell is used as a matrix for the rest of the community, as bacterial cells assemble to form the biofilms.
"The focus of our research is to better understand what factors the bacteria use to structure themselves into communities like biofilms. The hope is that if we can identify the important factors that mediate the biofilm process, we can therapeutically target and disrupt these structures," Hancock said. "For example, if we could disrupt the signaling between bacterial cells, then they'll never be able to communicate to form and establish a biofilm."
The grant from the National Institutes of Health will give Hancock the resources for salaries, supplies and equipment that are necessary to carry out his research. He hopes that in the coming years the findings in his lab will lead to additional treatment options to allow clinicians to cur
|Contact: Lynn Hancock|
Kansas State University