Breaking down the walls to fight MRSA

Antimicrobial drug resistance is a growing problem for Canadians and our neighbours around the globe, and GlycoNet investigators are taking a glycomics-based approach to battling one type of drug-resistant bacteria – methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

“Glycomics research is really important to antibiotics and antibiotic drug discovery. It turns out that glycobiology and glycans in general are a big part of the physiology and survival strategies for many of these microbes,” explains investigator Dr. Eric Brown from McMaster University.

Along with his colleagues Natalie Strynadka (University of British Columbia) and Gerard Wright (McMaster University), Dr. Brown has been funded by GlycoNet to study the role of wall teichoic acids in antimicrobial resistance, specifically in MRSA. Wall teichoic acids are sugars that are present on the surface of bacteria and have an important role in the ability of Staphylococcus aureus to infect and propagate, by providing strength and protection for the cells.

“In particular, strains that lack wall teichoic acids, it turns out are very susceptible to penicillin-like antibiotics,” says Dr. Brown. “We’re hoping to come up with new leads, that is small molecule compounds, that block the synthesis of wall teichoic acids.”

By blocking the synthesis of wall teichoic acids, it would make the bacteria more able to be treated by methicillin and other antimicrobials.

“In the case of MRSA, you have the ability of a drug resistant pathogen that has resistance to quite a number of antibiotics for which there are relatively few therapeutic alternatives. What we’re really trying to do is to add another tool in the physician’s toolbox to treat these kinds of pathogens,” says Brown.

Brown is excited for the future of development with GlycoNet’s support, as the team gets closer to  finding and optimizing drugs that block WTA synthesis.

“Drug discovery is a really tricky business and bridging that gap between basic discovery research and commercialization I think is something that GlycoNet is all about, and its something that certainly I’m looking forward to assistance with as our projects develop,” he says.

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