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GVSU scientists work to discover new drugs for fighting antibiotic resistant bacteria


 The discovery of the antibiotic resistant “superbug” discovered a couple of weeks ago is classified by the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention as a Hazard Level Urgent. It’s the highest threat level meaning it has the potential to become widespread. What are scientists doing to produce new last resort antibiotics?

WGVU spoke with Dr. Rachel Powers, a chemistry professor at Grand Valley State University who’s researching solutions. She describes the process and her reaction to the new superbug known as MCR 1.

“I actually was forwarded the email by one of my colleagues and his subject head on his email was ‘YIKES!’ so I guess that is kind of a Yikes moment.”

Dr. Rachel Powers is a chemistry professor at Grand Valley State University, I asked he what that means for the general population?

“It raises a lot of concerns. I’m actually writing a grant right now, a grant proposal, to help deal with some of these issues and it really provides motivation for that. It is scary, very scary.”

Does it generate more urgency in the laboratory?

“I think it does and it definitely gives us a nice context in which to work. You know urgency, we can only work so fast, we only have so much time, but it really does provide a real world scenario for our GVSU undergrads to really get involved in a project and really feel like they’re having an impact on the scientific future of humanity, really. “

Its heady stuff, but we wanted to know how the chemistry team will begin seeking new antibiotics.

“I said that bacteria have all sorts of ways to be resistant. And we focus on one way that bacteria become resistant. What we focus on are enzymes called beta lactamases and these are little machines that the bacteria have that break apart the antibiotics. And it’s really specific antibiotics that everyone’s heard of, penicillin, amoxicillin, which is what you take, that pink liquid when you have an ear infection or sore throat, that’s what the enzymes that we study are able to destroy. What we want to be able to do is kind of basically take that enzyme out of commission. We want to block its activity and so we’re looking to design drugs that would inhibit the activity of the enzyme. And so our thought is that we give a penicillin along with this inhibitor, this other drug that we’re trying to develop, and that would help overcome at least this one type of resistance.”   

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.