US DoD awards US$1.5M to GlycoNet antimicrobial research program

Funding will focus on the development of antibiofilm therapeutics

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By Chardelle Prevatt 

GlycoNet investigators, Dr. Donald Sheppard (a clinician scientist) and Dr. Lynne Howell (a structural biologist) have joined forces against bacterial and fungal pathogens responsible for pulmonary diseases.

During a pulmonary infection, the pathogens Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Aspergillus fumigatus commonly form an exopolysaccharide-rich biofilm within lung tissues. Biofilms consist of microorganisms that adhere to each other and cell surfaces in a thick, slime-like matrix. These biofilms enable disease-causing agents to evade host immune defenses and heighten their resistance to antibiotics. Patients with compromised immune systems and chronic lung disease are particularly susceptible to these opportunistic, biofilm-coated pathogens. As a result, morbidity and mortality rates for these infections continue to soar.

After successful preclinical trials, Drs. Sheppard and Howell, together with a team of leading experts, have discovered potential therapeutic leads—a set of enzymes called glycoside hydrolases that could help degrade and disrupt biofilm formation.

“Our areas of expertise are highly complementary and the preliminary data has already generated some exciting results,” said Dr. Howell. “We have demonstrated that glycoside hydrolases can both prevent biofilm formation as well as disrupt existing biofilms at low concentrations in vitro.”

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has recently awarded US$1.5 million to further advance preclinical studies of these leads. DoD funds, in addition to GlycoNet’s initial investment, will allow the investigators to optimize novel strategies to combat life-threatening pulmonary infections.

“These enzymes [glycoside hydrolases] could be used as a monotherapy or in combination with other treatments to suppress infections often resistant to antibiotics,” added Dr. Sheppard.

As experiments continue, the researchers are increasingly hopeful that this approach can be extended to develop treatments for non-pulmonary infections such as burn or wound infections.

“We’re thrilled at the opportunities that the DoD and GlycoNet funding present,” Dr. Sheppard remarked. “This research will provide proof-of-concept for the use of glycoside hydrolase therapy for enhancing antibacterial and antifungal therapeutics.”

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