New research initiative targets superbugs


The inaugural symposium of McMaster's Antimicrobial Research Centre (ARC) will bring together international leaders in antibiotics and related research fields to discuss their latest findings in the war against “superbugs” or antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

In addition to seminars by ARC members, four distinguished invited speakers will present results of their work at the symposium on Friday, April 14:

7 Christopher Walsh, Harvard Medical School, will talk about his recent advances in antibiotic synthesis;

7 Richard Losick, Harvard University Biological Laboratories, will discuss how gene expression is controlled during bacterial spore formation;

7 Roberto Kolter, Harvard University, will describe his recent discoveries on how bacteria survive in infected organisms and in transit from host to host;

7 Don Low, Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, will describe the state of the art in fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

ARC members:
7 Eric Brown will discuss his approach to finding the bacterial “Achilles' heel” that could be exploited for the development of new antibiotics;

7 Justin Nodwell will discuss bacteria that produce antibiotics and a surprising link between them and the bacteria that cause tuberculosis;

7 Astrid Petrich will describe her development of techniques for rapidly identifying antibiotic-resistant pathogens in hospitals;

7 Gerry Wright will describe his efforts in exploiting the normal metabolism of pathogenic fungi in the development of novel therapies for fungal disease.

Members of the ARC are focused on mechanisms of antibiotic resistance, antibiotic synthesis and, most importantly, the discovery and development of new treatments for diseases that resist the traditional therapies.

Antibiotic-resistant pathogens have already made substantial inroads in our hospitals and threaten to undermine disease treatments that we have taken for granted for decades. New research in this area is imperative.

Two of Canada's top researchers in the area of antibiotic resistance, Gerry Wright and Albert Berghuis, are at the core of the centre. These investigators have worked in close collaboration for over five years identifying and studying the genes and proteins that cause bacterial diseases to resist antibiotic treatment.

In conjunction with the Department of Biochemistry, they have recruited two additional faculty members, both from Harvard University: Eric Brown, whose research aims to identify new ways of attacking pathogenic bacteria; and Justin Nodwell, whose group studies antibiotic-producing microbes and tuberculosis.

More recently, Paul Berti, a biochemist from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, has also been recruited to the centre. His research, unique in Canada, uses sophisticated techniques to understand antibiotic resistance, literally at the level of single atoms. His research is of central importance to the development of new antibiotics.

“The ARC draws on the tremendous depth of expertise at McMaster University in areas important to the fight against antibiotic resistance,” says Gerry Wright, director of the centre. “Thus we have technical expertise at all stages from bench to bedside.”

“The differentiating characteristic of the McMaster Antimicrobial Research Centre from other institutions where antibiotic research is being conducted is the breadth of the ARC expertise and the superb technical background of its faculty,” says Wright.

The members of the ARC have attracted an impressive degree of research support, including grants from federal agencies such as the Medical Research Council and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. In addition, most of the members have attracted corporate support from companies such as Uniroyal, Cangene, Althexis, and others.