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Research tackles how to fight drug-resistant pathogens without killing good bacteria

Drug-resistant bacteria could lead to more deaths than cancer by 2050, according to a report commissioned by the United Kingdom in 2014 and jointly supported by the U.K. government and the Wellcome Trust.

A head-and-shoulders professional photo of Dr. Elizabeth Proctor

Elizabeth Proctor, PhD

In an effort to reduce the potential infection-caused 10 million deaths worldwide, a team led by Penn State researcher Scott Medina, and including a College of Medicine faculty member, has developed a peptide, or small protein, that can target a specific pathogen without damaging the good bacteria that bolsters the immune system.

Medina, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, led the team who published its results Jan. 4 in Nature Biomedical Engineering. Among the study’s Penn State co-authors was Elizabeth Proctor, PhD, assistant professor of neurosurgery, pharmacology, biomedical engineering and engineering science and mechanics.

Antibiotics can knock out an infection, but they can also kill off good bacteria, creating an opportunity for a potentially fatal secondary infection. Repeated exposure to antibiotics can also breed bacteria resistant to drugs. The potential for secondary infection and drug-resistant bacteria holds true for infections elsewhere in the body, too, according to Medina.

Led by biomedical engineering doctoral student Andrew W. Simonson, first author on the paper, the team set out to develop a peptide that could eradicate the pathogen that causes tuberculosis (TB), one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide, without harming surrounding good bacteria.

Read more about the work in this Penn State News story

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