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Researchers discover new class of antibiotics

| Thursday, March 20, 2014

Researchers at Notre Dame discovered a new class of antibiotics to fight disease-causing bacterium such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Dr. Mayland Chang and Dr. Shahriar Mobashery, both professors in the department of chemistry and biochemistry, spearheaded the research that led to the discovery of these new antibiotics, called oxadiazoles. Oxadiazoles are able to overcome MRSA’s antibiotic resistance, Mobashery said. 

antibiotic teaserKeri O'Mara | The Observer

“The antibacterial oxadiazoles were discovered by in silico … search [a search using computers] for compounds that would bind to penicillin-binding protein 2a, PBP2a, of MRSA,” he said. “The physiological function of PBP2a is critical for survival of MRSA.  The drug class disrupts the normal physiological process of PBP2a, hence MRSA dies.”

This is first time that oxadiazoles have been described as antibiotics, Mobashery said. He said they can also be used to fight other bacteria. Bacteria that are stained in the laboratory can be classified as Gram-negative and Gram-positive, and oxadiazoles work against the Gram-positive species, Mobashery said.

Chang said this discovery comes at an important time, especially because of MRSA’s resistance to other antibiotics.

“MRSA can cause life-threatening infections,” she said. “Resistance to antibiotics continues at an alarming rate, thus new antibiotics are urgently needed. We have been working on understanding resistance mechanisms and ways to intervene.”

Despite the new discovery, antibiotic research still needs to be expanded, according to Chang. She said many pharmaceutical companies have stopped antibiotic research because antibiotics act quickly against disease.

“So the financial incentives are not there, compared to drugs that are taken for the rest of one’s life and do not cure the disease, such as cholesterol-lowering medications and diabetes drugs,” she said.

Even still, both professors plan to continue their research on oxadiazoles, Chang said.

“We are continuing research to understand how the oxadiazoles work and if resistance develops to the oxadiazoles,” she said. “We are also working in new classes of antibiotics.”

While the research process can be slow, the rewards are great, Mobashery said. He said he has studied antibiotics and MRSA for 25 years and these discoveries hold a lot of promise.

“These discoveries will be built on for the future direction of research for both understanding of the resistance mechanisms and for discovery of new antibiotics,” he said.

Chang credited the University as an important supporter of her research.

“Notre Dame provides the infrastructure to do research. We have wonderful animal facilities that make this research possible all the way from the computer to animal models of infection,” Chang said.

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