Thwarting a Public Health Threat

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As researchers scramble to develop innovative new drugs to treat infections triggered by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the key to outwitting these crafty microbes may have been hidden inside the human body all along.

Through a $292,351 grant from the National Institutes of Health funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a team of researchers led by Dr. Greg Caputo, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is examining host defense peptides, molecules in the body that naturally fight infection.

“We’ve taken several of these host defense peptides, and we’re trying to understand on a molecular level what makes them good killers of bacteria but inhibits their ability to damage host cells,” Caputo said. Researchers not only are studying what enables them to do that on a molecular level, but they also are altering the peptides to determine whether this change affects their ability to function as effective antibacterial agents.

biodefense“These peptides offer an interesting alternative because they’ve been part of our immune system throughout evolution,” Caputo said. “What this tells us is bacteria haven’t been able to evolve a resistance to this type of molecule. So if we can figure out all the beneficial properties of these molecules – what makes them good killers and what makes them selective – we can potentially develop a class of antibiotics that is more resistance – proof than some of the conventional antibiotics on the market right now.”