Title

NIH grants $1.7 million to UND scientist to study unique defense against superbug infections

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date

6-18-2014

Campus Unit

School of Medicine & Health Sciences

Abstract

GRAND FORKS, N.D.—A University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences scientist has received a $1.7 million, five-year R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study a unique defense against superbug infections.

Over 20 percent of the deaths in the world are the result of bacterial infections. Multidrug-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, threaten to topple the medical status quo and are sending scientists scrambling to find new ways to combat disease-causing bacteria that were once treatable for decades but are no longer controlled by antibiotics. Superbugs have developed a resistance to some of the best drugs in modern medicine's disease-fighting arsenal.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the NIH recognized the promising research being conducted by Associate Professor Min Wu, MD, PhD, in the Department of Basic Sciences at the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences, by awarding him the grant.

Wu and his lab team have proposed transforming a common cellular housekeeping function and using it in combatting superbugs. The human body's cells employ a process called autophagy (self-eating) to rid the body of aging or dying cells. Wu will study how to turn autophagy into a weapon to fight pathogens, a process scientists call phagocytosis that is carried out in the lungs and other organs by macrophages (phagocytic cells). Wu and his team's goal is to develop an innovative treatment to help the human body more effectively regulate the immune function, keep inflammation in control, and avoid severe complications, particularly septicemia and sepsis.

Sepsis is a life-threatening medical condition that results from a systemic inflammatory response by the body to fend off a severe infection or to recover from a traumatic injury. Sepsis affects a very large number of people each year and is fatal to about 40 percent of patients affected in ICUs. Controlling sepsis requires reducing the inflammation in afflicted organs.

The NIAID's interest was piqued when Wu's team identified a novel mechanism that takes place in autophagy also facilitates phagocytosis. They have elucidated the disease pathways used by multidrug-resistant bacteria and have identified several critical genes that may regulate bacterial metabolism and their means of invading the body.

"Patients with immunocompromised conditions such as cystic fibrosis, cancer, burns, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and bronchitis are particularly susceptible to infections by multidrug-resistant bacteria, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa," Wu said. "Our research may facilitate the development of new strategies to prevent or control the drug-resistant infection."

The Research Project Grant (R01) is the original and historically oldest grant mechanism used by the NIH. An R01 grant provides support for health-related research and development based on the mission of the NIH, which is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.

A part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the NIH is the nation's medical research agency. The NIH is the largest source of funding for medical research in the world. The mission of the NIH is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.

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