Fighting Multidrug-resistant Pathogens
As a Professor in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry, Courtney Aldrich’s research focuses on developing new antibacterial agents for multidrug-resistant pathogens, including the bacteria that cause the deadly disease tuberculosis (TB).
It is a challenging public health issue on the rise in the developing world. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide. Over 95 percent of cases and deaths are in developing countries.
It’s also a public health challenge stuck in a time warp: Since the introduction of rifampicin in 1971, very few advances have been made in the development of new antibiotics for TB.
“Discovery efforts that led to these drugs haven’t significantly changed from what was taught in the 1970s,” said Aldrich.
Today, all clinically used antibiotics act by one of a small number of mechanisms such as inhibition of protein synthesis, DNA synthesis, cell-wall synthesis and RNA transcription.
“We have used the same compounds to treat TB for nearly 50 years,” he said.
Although general bacterial resistance is a big public health problem globally, most of the major pharmaceutical companies abandoned antibiotic discovery decades ago.
“The problem we have now is resistance to the old drugs—and TB is far from eradicated. In Minnesota, for example, there are approximately 200 confirmed cases each year,” said Aldrich.
TB is caused by a highly successful bacterial pathogen that lives within macrophages, the very immune cells that normally neutralize a bacterial infection, making it extremely difficult to develop a vaccine to fight it.
“The typical treatment protocol for TB takes six months of drug therapy with a combination of four drugs,” said Aldrich. “Many of the TB drugs have notorious side effects, from influenza-like syndrome and hepatitis for rifampicin, to deafness and neurotoxicity for some of the second-line drugs.”
As a global public health issue, the college has strongly supported research and discovery efforts for the treatment of tuberculosis and other multidrug resistant pathogens.
“The United States is a leader in global public health and containing infectious disease outbreaks,” said Aldrich. “In today’s world, what happens in other countries can easily come back here. It’s a worthwhile investment for us all.”