Researchers discover organic molecules to be effective in fight against drug-resistant bacteria

NEWPORT, R.I. (Aug. 3, 2016) – Members of Olympic sailing, triathlon and rowing teams competing in polluted waters at the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro may be interested in peer-reviewed research just published by a Salve Regina University chemistry professor and co-authored by one of her undergraduate students.

Dr. Susan Meschwitz, assistant professor of chemistry, and Salve Regina senior chemistry major Emily Poulin have discovered that a class of organic molecules are proving effective in the fight against drug-resistant bacteria, a finding with the potential to impact modern medicine as the misuse and overuse of antibiotics have led to the development of widespread resistance. See the article published July 25 in the journal “Molecules” by MDPI (Basel, Switzerland): http://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/21/8/971.

The findings may have world-wide consequences for an emerging health crisis currently highlighted by the risks athletes are facing at the Summer Olympics. Scientists in Rio have reported dangerous contamination in the waters around the city, from rotaviruses that can cause diarrhea and vomiting to drug-resistant “superbacteria” that can be fatal to people with weakened immune systems.

“The rise of drug-resistant bacteria that are extremely difficult to treat has emerged as a major threat to public health,” Meschwitz says. “The failure of existing antibiotics to control infection makes it crucial to find alternatives to currently available drugs.”

Meschwitz and Poulin are interested in organic molecules as an effective alternative to currently available drugs. “Many pathogenic bacteria rely on a communication system known as quorum sensing to help them establish infection in a host,” Meschwitz says. “This quorum sensing communication system is controlled by small molecules called auto-inducers, which coordinate collective behaviors and allow the bacteria to attack as a group rather than as a single cell, thus overpowering the host immune system. We have discovered that a class of molecules known as beta-keto esters are capable of inhibiting quorum sensing and we anticipate that these molecules will provide a new lead in the development of novel antibacterial therapeutics.”

The failure of existing antibiotics to control infection makes it crucial to find alternatives to currently available drugs. The World Health Organization has recently categorized multi-drug resistant bacteria as one of the top three threats to human health.

For more information on this study, contact Susan.meschwitz@salve.edu or 401-341-3121.