Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Shutting Down Bacteria's Injection System In A Future Antibiotic - New Research Hopes To Save Lives

Pink rod-like bacteria float with a black background
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Bacterial infections can cause a variety of symptoms from mild intestinal discomfort to death. Recent research could lead to a new form of antibiotics by shutting down bacteria’s injection system.

"So Shigella is a less publically known bacteria that really is a significant worldwide health concern - it is in the same family as E. coli and Salmonella. There’s 100 million known cases each year and 1 million deaths worldwide so it is a significant health concern," said Nick Dickenson, an assistant professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at Utah State University.

"The bacteria themselves are capable of secreting or injecting proteins into a targeted host cell, which in our case, would be one of our cells, and so the ability of these bacteria to directly secrete or inject these proteins allows for them to invade and take over host cell function," Dickenson said.

Through his investigation on how Shigella bacteria function, Dickenson discovered how to shut down these secretion pathways in Shigella, preventing the bacteria from injecting into host cells.

"In the absence of a functioning secretion system, they are no longer virulent meaning they can no longer cause an infection," Dickenson said. "So they are still bacteria, but they are no longer infectious and what that means is that our own native immune systems can fairly easily clear the presence of a bacteria that doesn’t contain the capabilities of a secretion system."

According to Dickenson the next steps of this research involve using computer programs to test possible Shigella injection inhibitors, then testing the top options in a laboratory setting. Dickenson hopes that these strides in understanding how Shigella functions could lead to shutting down the injection system for a variety of bacteria, reducing deaths worldwide.