BTI/MIT Awarded Transformative NIH Grant to Tackle Antibiotic “Discovery Void”

by | Oct 6, 2014

Associate Professor Frank C. Schroeder, Boyce Thompson Institute

The Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (BTI) announced today that BTI Associate Professor Frank Schroeder and Dennis Kim, Associate Professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), have been awarded a 2014 Transformative Research grant (TR01) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct a five-year research project to identify new antimicrobial compounds and mechanisms that could reduce the emergence of antibiotic resistance.

“Over the past 30 years, no new classes of antibiotics have been discovered. To fill this void, our study will mine a previously untapped source of natural products—the metabolome of nematodes. We anticipate finding compounds that directly affect bacterial and fungal growth, as well as chemicals that control microbial colonization and proliferation, virulence, and induce host immunity. These latter ‘anti-virulence’ compounds represent potential therapeutic agents that may be less likely to give rise to microbial resistance,” said Schroeder.

An organism’s metabolome is the complete set of chemical compounds it uses and produces to conduct essential functions like metabolism, reproduction and fighting infection. Previously, Schroeder’s lab found that the microscopic nematode Caenorhabditis elegans produces compounds that mimic chemical sensing signals bacteria use to coordinate behaviors like virulence and antibiotic resistance. Many other nematodes were recently found to also produce highly diverse metabolomes, including many compounds whose chemical structures suggest a role in nematode-bacterial interactions, a discovery that encouraged Schroeder and Kim to undertake a systematic approach to clarify the function of these compounds.

“The creative research program Schroeder and Kim will undertake through this grant could open an important new avenue for drug development and human health. Impact is central to BTI’s mission, and we’re proud to collaborate on and support this type of path-breaking, transformative research,” said Greg Martin, Ph.D., acting president and CEO of BTI.

The NIH Common Fund announced eight Transformative Research grants in the High-Risk, High-Reward program in 2014. The Transformative Research Award initiative, established in 2009, promotes cross-cutting interdisciplinary approaches and is open to individuals and teams of investigators who propose research that could potentially create or challenge existing paradigms. This TR01 grant combines Schroeder’s expertise in small molecule metabolomics of C. elegans with Kim’s extensive research on host-pathogen interactions.

“Supporting innovative investigators with the potential to transform scientific fields is a critical element of our mission,”’ said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

For more information on Professor Frank Schroeder’s Transformative nematode small molecule research project click here

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