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Antibiotic Awareness Day

ITQB's role in studying antibiotic resistance

Oeiras, 18.11.09

Today is the European Antibiotic Awareness Day.
The latest data confirms that across the European Union the number of patients infected by resistant bacteria is increasing and that antibiotic resistance is a major threat to public health.
This an excellent occasion to remember that antibiotic resistance has been a central subject for ITQB research with three laboratories working directly on this topic, and others looking into the subject from different perspectives (e.g., carbon monoxide may have antimicrobial properties). The Laboratory of Molecular Genetics in particular has been looking into the epidemiology of antibiotic resistant bacteria for several years, and Hermínia de Lencastre, head of the lab and full professor at ITQB, was recently acknowledged as the highest cited scientist on the topic of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

The long-range interest of the laboratory of Molecular Genetics, headed by Hermínia de Lencastre, is in the genetics, biochemical and evolutionary mechanisms and epidemiology of drug resistant gram-positive pathogens, specifically, Staphylococcus spp. and Streptococcus pneumoniae. The emergence and spread of drug resistant clones of these two important pathogens pose a serious public health threat worldwide. At the same time the phenomenon also presents fascinating problems of basic science, such as the evolutionary origin of resistance genes; the mechanism of gene expression and the question of what combination of determinants provides the basis for the epidemic "success" of these pathogens.
The Bacterial Cell Biology laboratory, headed by Mariana Pinho, is interested in understanding, at a molecular level, the organization and the temporal and spatial regulation of the macromolecular machine that is responsible for cell wall synthesis. The cell wall can be described as an "exoskeleton" that surrounds and protects the bacteria and its synthesis is the target of various antibiotics. This group is particularly interested in understanding the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance of the Gram positive pathogenic bacteria Staphylococcus aureus.

The laboratory of Antibiotic Stress and Virulence of Enterococci, headed by Fátima Lopes, is interested in the puzzling subject of Enterococcus virulence. Enterococci are harmless bacteria in healthy individuals but become pathogenic in patients in intensive care units and in hospitalized patients with impaired immune systems. Their success of as opportunistic pathogens relies both on its intrinsic and the acquired resistance to clinically used antibiotics. Enterococci rank now as the third most common cause of nosocomial blood infections in the US and the fourth in Europe. By understanding the mechanism of virulence and antibiotic resistance, the lab aims to identify new antibiotic targets to fight enterococcal infections.
Overall, ITQB researchers have also been directly involved in public awareness campaigns (integrated in the multiple science outreach actions of ITQB or with specific activities) for a more rational use of antibiotics.
In this day it is especially important to reiterate an important message: "a responsible use of antibiotics can help stop resistant bacteria from spreading and help keeping well characterized antibiotics effective for use by future generations". And this is where the rest of us can help.

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