Recent work from University Distinguished Professor of Biology Kim Lewis promises to overcome one of the leading public health threats of our time. In a groundbreaking study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, Lewis' team presents a novel approach to treat and eliminate methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, a potent bacterium whose resistance to antibiotics has kept it one step ahead of researchers. That is, until now.
The so-called "superbug" infects 1 million Americans each year. A major problem with MRSA is the development of deep-seated chronic infections such as osteomyelitis (bone infection), endocarditis (heart infection), or infections of implanted medical devices. Once established, these infections are often incurable, even when appropriate antibiotics are used.
Bacteria such as MRSA have evolved to actively resist certain antibiotics, a fact that has generated significant interest among the scientific and medical communities. But Lewis, Director of Northeastern's Antimicrobial Discovery Center, suspected that a different adaptive function of bacteria might be the true culprit in making these infections so devastating.
The new work represents the culmination of more than a decade of research on a specialized class of cells produced by all pathogens called persisters. According to Lewis, these cells evolved to survive. "Survival is their only function," he said. "They don't do anything else."
Lewis and his research team posited that if they could kill these expert survivors, perhaps they could cure chronic infectionseven those resistant to multiple antibiotics such as MRSA. Furthermore, said Brian Conlon, a postdoctoral researcher in Lewis' lab and first author on the paper, "if you can eradicate the persisters, there's less of a chance that resistance will develop at all."
Lewis, who was elected to the American Academy of Microbiology in 2011 for his scholarship in the field, has found that p
|Contact: Kara Shemin|