After centuries of falling victim to various infectious diseases, the world hailed the discovery of antibiotics and other antimicrobial agents as an enormous triumph of medicine. So convincing was the power of antibiotics that, in 1969, US Surgeon-General William Stewart declared that society could "close the book on infectious disease." But, in the years since then, his optimism has been replaced by a deep concern regarding the rise of drug-resistant microbes. Increasingly, bacterial and fungal infections have become harder to treat with currently available antimicrobial agents.
As Canada Research Chair in Structural Biology, Dr. Albert Berghuis will aim to develop new therapeutics for combatting infectious diseases. His approach is to study different mechanisms employed by micro-organisms to circumvent the effects of antimicrobial agents and explore new strategies for fighting various bacterial and fungal diseases. As the name of his Chair suggests, Dr. Berghuis will pursue his research using structural biology. Using x-ray crystallographic techniques, he will examine the three-dimensional structure of proteins responsible for conferring drug resistance. With this approach he hopes to gain insight into the phenomenon of drug resistance and, by determining the atomic structure of proteins that are critical to pathogenic bacteria and fungi, obtain knowledge that will lead to the development of drugs that can be used to combat these micro-organisms.
While the development of novel antimicrobial agents is the main objective of the research program, an extremely important component of the program is the development of methods in computer-aided drug design that use data obtained through structural biology techniques. The development of these methods will be widely applicable in the drug discovery process.