Arming the world’s medicine cabinets in the war against superbugs

Dr. Natalie Strynadka
Photo credit: Kallberg Studios

CIHR Foundation Grant Recipient

Dr. Natalie Strynadka
University of British Columbia
Faculty of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Dr. Strynadka’s Research

Superbugs, drug-resistant bacteria, are the third leading cause of death in Canada and are attributed to almost one-third of deaths worldwide. Their emergence is diminishing our ability to prevent and treat an ever-increasing range of bacterial infections in the clinic and in the community setting such as schools, daycares and long-term care facilities.

The evolution of resistant strains is actually a natural occurrence. It happens when micro-organisms interchange resilient traits or accidently replicate themselves inaccurately. However, the misuse of antibiotics accelerates the emergence of drug-resistant strains. Clever bacterial cells mutate, rather than being eradicated, and as a result, the traditional drug treatments designed to wipe them out are no longer effective. Drugs that were once effective, like penicillin, are now powerless. No longer able to help the body combat dangerous invaders like E.Coli, Clostridium Difficile (C-Difficile) and diseases like gonorrhea, plague and tuberculosis, physicians are left with fewer and fewer weapons in their arsenal, as they fight this costly war against superbugs.

According to the World Health Organization, antimicrobial resistance is an increasingly serious threat to global public health that requires action across all government sectors and society.

Supporting Advances in Drug Resistant Bacteria

Responding to the urgent call to action is Dr. Natalie Strynadka, a researcher at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. At the vanguard of emerging technologies, including being an early adopter of new, more powerful imaging techniques, Dr. Strynadka, is advancing our understanding of microbial resistance and offering valuable insight into the development of new, more effective antibiotics.

The wall of our cells serves as a barrier to drugs. Even if the antibiotics manage to penetrate the wall, the cell often retaliates by ejecting them.

By seeking to define the molecular blueprint of superbugs, Dr. Strynadka and her team will shed light on how to inhibit specific features of the bacterial lifecycle in order to design new drugs that can penetrate the cell wall and resist the bacteria’s attempts to eliminate the drug.

Thanks to Dr. Strynadka’s groundbreaking work using x-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and electron microscopy (EM), researchers are gaining insight into how antibiotic-resistant mechanisms work in bacteria, at the molecular level where individual atoms that make up the proteins are visualized.

About Dr. Strynadka

A world leader in the development of hybrid structural methods to probe molecular assemblies, Dr. Strynadka has garnered international attention for using an integrated experimental and bioinformatics investigative approach to examine macro-molecular assemblies. By applying this hybrid of structural methods, in concert with medicinal chemistry, she is exploring the development of new drugs designed to interact with and disarm critical bacterial target proteins.  Natalie Strynadka completed her Ph.D. at the University of Alberta. Named Canada Research Chair in Antibiotic Discovery and Medicine in 2010, she is also a University of Alberta Gordon Kaplan Memorial Fellow, CIHR Scholar, Howard Hughes Medical Institute International Scholar and a Burroughs Wellcome New Investigator.

"I am extremely grateful for the Foundation program in providing the needed financial bedrock and scientific freedom to optimally achieve our research goals in understanding the molecular underpinnings of infectious disease." – Dr Natalie Strynadka

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