Waging war against super bugs
A ferocious battle is currently being waged against some of the bacteria that cause human disease. That’s because the bacteria are developing resistance to the drugs used against them and some, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Clostridium difficile and some strains of tuberculosis, have even developed into “super bugs” that are impervious to most antibiotics. The World Health Organization considers the rise of these super bugs as a new health care crisis.
Dr. Mirek Cygler, Canada Research Chair in Molecular Medicine Using Synchrotron Light, is working to keep ahead of bacterial resistance by identifying new drug targets that will guide the development of new classes of antibiotics. He is exploring a strategy that involves targeting only the bacteria’s ability to cause disease – rather than just killing the whole pathogen – which will therefore reduce pressure to develop resistance.
Cygler also aims to understand bacterial effector proteins – molecules that interact with host cell proteins to essentially “pick the lock” and invade the cell. Once past the cell’s defences, these bacteria can use the cell’s resources to live and reproduce.
Cygler is using the power of Canada’s national synchrotron (a source of brilliant light that scientists use to gather information about the properties of materials at the molecular level) facility in Saskatchewan to determine the shape and structure of effector proteins. Using intense X-rays produced by the synchrotron, he is seeking to map these proteins in three dimensions.
Cygler’s research will provide new ammunition in the war against super bugs and could turn the tide against the bacteria.