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$4.4M NIH Award Supports UMD Research on Enzymes to Combat Pneumonia

By Maryland Today Staff

The National Institutes for Health (NIH) has awarded $4.4 million to a University of Maryland researcher and a colleague to develop both a novel therapeutic and a vaccine approach to address Streptococcus pneumoniae, which is the leading cause of bacterial community-acquired pneumonia and the cause of death for about 1.6 million people annually.

Pneumococcal vaccinations are very effective, but target just a few of the more than 100 different strains of pneumococcus; they’re also unavailable in many developing countries. Additionally, antimicrobial resistance is on the rise globally, and poses a risk of pneumococcal disease that is increasingly difficult to combat.

One new strategy being developed to circumvent the problem of antimicrobial resistance is the use of endolysins, enzymes that can kill pathogens by degrading the bacterial cell wall upon contact, while sparing "good" bacteria.

Daniel Nelson, a professor in the Department of Veterinary Medicine and a fellow in the Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research, and his colleague Norberto Gonzalez-Juarbe of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) will directly evaluate endolysins for their ability to treat active pneumococcal infection and then use endolysins to cause necroptosis, a form of cell death that initiates the development of protective immunity against colonizing bacteria.

“We have spent many years doing basic research to engineer and optimize the perfect pneumococcal endolysin,” Nelson said. “Now we are finally ready to move forward with the infection and efficacy studies supported by this award.”

This article was adapted from the original text on the IBBR website.

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