Grant funds research to find new ways to prevent, treat bacterial infections

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine have received a $12 million grant over five years from the National Institutes of Health to identify non-antibiotic strategies to prevent and treat bacterial infections.

Antimicrobial resistant organisms are fast becoming one of the biggest public health threats worldwide. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria kill about 1 million people across the globe each year, and this is expected to worsen significantly. As a response, the National Institutes of Health established the Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Integrated Research Units, and Baylor was selected as one of the research sites.

“The main focus of this research is to invent and optimize new ways of preventing and treating bacterial infections,” said Dr. Robert Britton, professor of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor. “Traditional antibiotic approaches have begun to fail due to the emergence of resistance to these drugs. Novel approaches are needed to curb the spread of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.”

Britton said Baylor’s researchers will use components of the human microbiome, the collection of bacteria and viruses that normally reside in the bodies of healthy people, to find non-antibiotic solutions to bacterial infections.

“It’s important to note that we will not be developing new chemical antibiotics,” said Dr. Anthony Maresso, associate professor of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor. “These new antibacterials are paradigm changing, somewhat revolutionary in idea. They will either be ‘good’ bacteria themselves, or viruses that infect only ‘bad’ bacteria, both of which aim to create balance in the human biome.”

The team has projects focused on combating pathogens at multiple body sites including the gut, bloodstream, urogenital tract and nasal passages.

“A key component of this research is to identify beneficial bacteria and antibacterial viruses that are effective at protecting mucosal surfaces of the body from bacteria that can invade and cause infections,” said Dr. Katherine P. Lemon, associate professor of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor. “This strategy holds great promise for a more rapid path to translate results into future clinical trials.”

Researchers are expecting two main outcomes from this research:

  • Define and understand how good bacteria and phages function to control pathogens at mucosal surfaces
  • Identify actionable phage and microbial communities that will be available for testing in human clinical trials at the end of the project

“This important research will deepen our understanding of how some of the bacteria and bacterial viruses that are native to the human microbiome guard our mucosal surfaces and prevent infections,” Britton said. “This research will be the foundation for development of new nonantibiotic methods to prevent and treat infections.”

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