Battling Bacteria

Microbiologist Julian Hurdle explores treatment to combat common hospital-acquired infection

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Every year nearly a quarter of a million patients acquire infections during their hospital stays. Tens of thousands of the patients don’t survive.

Julian Hurdle, an assistant professor of biology, hopes to decrease those numbers. The microbiologist was awarded $1.9 million from the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to develop a treatment for one of the most widespread hospital infections.

Dr. Hurdle plans to study the effect of reutericyclin compounds on the bacterium Clostridium difficile. C. difficile is the leading cause of diarrhea in elderly hospital and nursing home patients and also affects cancer patients and others with compromised immune systems. The bacterium is responsible for more than 500,000 cases each year and 15,000–20,000 deaths.

C. difficile infections have become more widespread and difficult to treat over the past 10 years, with high rates of relapse,” says Hurdle, who joined the College of Science in 2010. “With only a few drugs available to treat it, there is a great clinical need and a market opportunity in developing treatments.”

His co-investigator on the project is Richard Lee, a medicinal chemist and faculty member at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

Hurdle and Lee will use the five-year grant to improve the effectiveness of their reutericyclin compounds and explore how they work against C. difficile. They believe reutericyclin is unique because it attacks the membrane of the C. difficile cells, killing them by affecting multiple cellular processes that the bacteria need to survive.

The researchers also think that reutericyclins could be used to coat the surface of biomedical implants to prevent contamination of those devices with bacteria such as MRSA and Staphylococcus epidermidis. These bacteria cause persistent infections and are often responsible for the failure of several commonly used implants.

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