UCSD gets $9.5M to study antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’

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SAN DIEGO — Researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine were awarded a five-year, $9.5 million federal grant to establish an interdisciplinary center to figure out the systems biology of antibiotic resistance, it was announced Tuesday.

The scientists will tackle one of the biggest health threats — so- called “superbugs,” or bacteria that no longer respond reliably to antibiotics.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 2 million Americans become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, many of them in hospitals, and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of such 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,” said Dr. Victor Nizet, a professor of pediatrics and pharmacy.

“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,” said Nizet, who will lead the program with Bernhard Palsson, a professor of bioengineering and pediatrics.

The program will include researchers from UCSD’s School of Medicine, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Jacobs School of Engineering.

“Dr. Nizet’s work demonstrates how unexpected environmental factors influence the efficacy of antibiotics,” Palsson said. “Thus, improving treatment outcomes in serious or antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection will require systems-level analyses at the molecular level.”

The award was issued by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

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