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Award-winning project takes on threat of multidrug-resistant bacteria

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The moment of insight that leads to new drug discoveries and therapies can come from just about anywhere. For Stanford students Christian Choe, Maria Filsinger Interrante and Zachary Rosenthal, the eureka moment that could pave the way for a new therapy for multidrug-resistant bacteria arrived when they took part in an entrepreneurship program founded by Chaitan Khosla, PhD, the director of Stanford ChEM-H.

As part of the program, the students (who dubbed themselves Team Lyseia) developed a stragey to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The entrepreneurship program's experts and investors were so impressed by Team Lyseia's presentation, ChEM-H awarded the students $10,000 to develop their idea further and prove their concept against E. coli.

Bacteria rapidly evolve resistance to antibiotics (antibiotics kill all susceptible bacteria, leaving only resistant bacteria alive and available to reproduce) so there's a great need for new ways to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria. According to a recent report by the CDC, each year antibiotic-resistant bacteria infect about 2 million people in the United States, killing about 23,000.

Filsinger Interrante, who is currently a first-year MD/PhD student, and undergraduates Choe and Rosenthal decided to sidestep the problem of resistance by devising a way to kill bacteria without antibiotics. Their solution is to give viruses that infect bacteria (called bacteriophages) a bit of a weapons upgrade by boosting their proteins' ability to penetrate and kill certain types of multidrug-resistant bacteria.

Team Lyseia's research is particularly important because their engineered proteins may be the first to enter clinical trials against a group of multidrug-resistant bacteria known as Gram-negative, including E. coliP. aeruginosa and A. baumannii.

For their latest work on this project, the team of Choe, Filsinger Interrante and Rosenthal were named “Cure it!” winners this week by the Lemelson-MIT Program, which includes a prize of $10,000. The prize honors "students working on technology-based inventions that can improve health care." A total of $115,000 was awarded to four undergraduate teams, including Team Lyseia, and five individual graduate inventors.

"These students display the brilliance and hope of their generation,” said Dorothy Lemelson, Lemelson Foundation chair in a press release. “We are proud to recognize them for their achievements.”

Previously: Undergraduates tackle growing threat of antibiotic resistanceCould predictive software defeat drug-resistant bacteria? and Stanford ChEM-H bridges chemistry, engineering and medicine
Photo by L.A. Cicero

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