Fight the Resistance
UW researchers are developing antibiotics that battle a growing infectious disease problem
Bacteriologist Michael Thomas [right] has some of the best “chemists” in the world working in his UW–Madison lab to develop drugs to fight tuberculosis. They work for nothing and don’t eat very much—they are bacteria that produce a compound called
capreomycin, shown to be effective against a disease that’s becoming resistant to existing drugs.
Capreomycin, a “second-line drug,” is prescribed for patients whose primary medication is ineffective. Due to serious side effects such as kidney and hearing damage, it’s not the first choice for patients. And much like chemotherapy, it is administered intravenously over a six- to nine-month treatment period. “When you take it orally right now it goes right through the system,” says Thomas, whose lab is tinkering with the way the drug is made so that it can be more easily and effectively administered in pill form without the negative side effects and in greater quantity.
Thomas and other microbiology researchers are also engaged in a cross-disciplanary collaborative called WisPAR, the Wisconsin Project for Antimicrobial Research, which integrates people and technologies to tackle the kind of drug discovery researchers say isn’t happening as much or as quickly as it was in the twentieth century.
“At the same time that the threat of infectious disease is intensifying, the discovery of new antibiotics has slowed virtually to a crawl,” according to WisPAR. “Pharmaceutical companies and federal funding agencies have largely abandoned the long-supported science of antibiotic discovery, despite their acknowledgement of the impending health crisis.”
“We have a major problem with antimicrobial resistance,” says professor and WisPAR co-founder Marcin Filutowicz [left], thanks to setbacks like overuse of antibiotics, increasing populations and global movement, and the discovery that a larger number of diseases are bacteria-driven than previously thought.
WisPAR’s current projects include a $300,000 two-year National Institutes of Health grant to develop a technology that would use “friendly” bacteria to fight pathogens.
Says Irwin Goldman, interim dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: “It’s wonderful to see the raw excitement and energy of an interested group of people pursuing really cool ideas.”