UC San Diego scientists receive $9.5 million NIH grant to combat antibiotic resistance

April 12, 2016

Researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have received a five-year, $9.5-million award from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to establish an interdisciplinary center to define the systems biology of antibiotic resistance. The program will be led by Bernhard Palsson, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Bioengineering and Pediatrics, and Victor Nizet, MD, professor of pediatrics and pharmacy.

Bacteria that no longer reliably respond to antibiotic therapy, so-called "superbugs," pose one of the greatest threats in modern medicine. Superbugs, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Clostridium difficile (C. diff), and carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), often strike hospitalized patients, the elderly or those with weakened immune systems or chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that at least 2 million Americans become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.

"I worry that approaches currently used in the clinic to evaluate antibiotic activity are antiquated and simplistic, and address the drug's action only on bacteria growing in artificial laboratory media without attention to the human immune system," Nizet said. "Our research has shown that certain antibiotics can synergize with the natural defenses of our immune system to clear infections in a way that wouldn't have been predicted by current testing paradigms."

Palsson is a leader in the emerging field of systems biology, which explores the complexity of living systems -- from the genome to the entire organism -- using experimental and computational methods. Concerned by the exploding problem of drug-resistant bacterial pathogens, Palsson reached out to Nizet, a physician-scientist, to explore whether systems-level approaches could be coupled with experimental models of antibiotic drugs, living bacterial pathogens, human immune cells and animal models of infection to benefit patients with antibiotic-resistant infections.

"Dr. Nizet's work demonstrates how unexpected environmental factors influence the efficacy of antibiotics. Thus, improving treatment outcomes in serious or antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection will require systems-level analyses at the molecular level," said Palsson. "We could paraphrase and honor geneticist and evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky's famous quote by saying: 'Nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of systems thinking.'"

"By bringing together researchers from our School of Medicine, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Jacobs School of Engineering, this new center embodies the collaborative, interdisciplinary spirit for which UC San Diego is known," said David Brenner, MD, vice chancellor of UC San Diego Health Sciences and dean of UC San Diego School of Medicine. "We're grateful to the NIH for recognizing our leading-edge capabilities in medicine, engineering and computer science, and for supporting researchers ambitious and talented enough to take on one of the greatest global medical challenges of our time."

The new research program will be headquartered in the UC San Diego School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Host-Microbe Systems and Therapeutics. Other faculty leaders in the team are:
-end-
In addition to this new systems biology and antibiotic resistance center, funded by NIH grant 1-U01-AI124316-01, the UC San Diego School of Medicine's Division of Host-Microbe Systems and Therapeutics played a key leadership role launching the UC San Diego Center for Microbiome Innovation in October 2015. In late 2016, the division will launch another campus-wide research and educational initiative known as Collaborative to Halt Antibiotic-Resistant Microbes (CHARM), which will support a wide range of innovative scientific and outreach strategies to address this pressing challenge to clinical medicine and public health.

University of California - San Diego

Related Immune System Articles from Brightsurf:

How the immune system remembers viruses
For a person to acquire immunity to a disease, T cells must develop into memory cells after contact with the pathogen.

How does the immune system develop in the first days of life?
Researchers highlight the anti-inflammatory response taking place after birth and designed to shield the newborn from infection.

Memory training for the immune system
The immune system will memorize the pathogen after an infection and can therefore react promptly after reinfection with the same pathogen.

Immune system may have another job -- combatting depression
An inflammatory autoimmune response within the central nervous system similar to one linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) has also been found in the spinal fluid of healthy people, according to a new Yale-led study comparing immune system cells in the spinal fluid of MS patients and healthy subjects.

COVID-19: Immune system derails
Contrary to what has been generally assumed so far, a severe course of COVID-19 does not solely result in a strong immune reaction - rather, the immune response is caught in a continuous loop of activation and inhibition.

Immune cell steroids help tumours suppress the immune system, offering new drug targets
Tumours found to evade the immune system by telling immune cells to produce immunosuppressive steroids.

Immune system -- Knocked off balance
Instead of protecting us, the immune system can sometimes go awry, as in the case of autoimmune diseases and allergies.

Too much salt weakens the immune system
A high-salt diet is not only bad for one's blood pressure, but also for the immune system.

Parkinson's and the immune system
Mutations in the Parkin gene are a common cause of hereditary forms of Parkinson's disease.

How an immune system regulator shifts the balance of immune cells
Researchers have provided new insight on the role of cyclic AMP (cAMP) in regulating the immune response.

Read More: Immune System News and Immune System Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.