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TB or not TB, students identify promising antibiotic candidates

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Posted June 16, 2017

The battle against tuberculosis (TB) is closer to being won after University of Queensland students identified promising inhibitory compounds during a molecular microbiology practical course this semester.

School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences TB research head Dr Nick West said students had found themselves at the forefront of their field by discovering five or six compounds that inhibited growth in a harmless bacterium related to TB.

“There has not been a new general use anti-TB drug for 50 years,” Dr West said.

“This was genuine research in which all the students were involved and it does appear we have identified some very interesting compounds.

Student Valeria Heredia, Dr Nick West and student Franchesca Velarde. Credit: The University of Queensland

“I think the students really enjoyed the novel and translatable nature of the work, which has resulted in further research now being a reality.”

The students were undertaking UQ microbiology course MICR3003 in which they screened a compound library for inhibitors of TB.

Dr West said, as part of the course, the 140 participating students worked through 7000 random compounds.

“While the majority of the compounds did nothing, a small number completely inhibited the bacteria,” he said.

“The students developed important scientific skills for future careers in microbiology, molecular research and development, and the pharmaceutical industries.”

During lectures students learned of the serious situation developing in which medicine is unable to treat antibiotic resistant bacterial infections.

“This has reinvigorated efforts toward the urgent discovery and development of new antibiotics,” Dr West said.

“Molecular microbiologists will play a large and important role in these solutions.”

TB is the leading cause of death globally due to an infectious agent, killing approximately two million people each year.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium responsible, currently infects over one third of the world’s population, and although most cases respond to standard antibiotic therapy, drug resistant strains are on the rise and new antibiotics for TB are urgently needed.

Compounds are purchased from Compounds Australia at Griffith University, which was a national resource-bank for molecules.

“There are currently around 65,000 compounds in this particular library, so we will have many promising compounds to examine in years to come,” Dr West said.

Student Franchesca Velarde said that having the opportunity to be part of bona fide research that looked for a new TB drug, which hadn’t been discovered in 50 years, was an incredible experience.

“It gives you understanding of how laborious it is to look for a TB drug and it gives you the skills used in high tech labs,” she said.

Source: The University of Queensland

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