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Hurdle awarded $1.9 million to study hospital infection

Julian Hurdle
Julian Hurdle

Julian Hurdle, an assistant professor of biology, is developing a treatment for one of the most widespread hospital infections in the U.S. has been awarded $1.9 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine.

Hurdle plans to study the effect of reutericyclin compounds on the bacteria Clostridium difficile or C. difficile. 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.

C. difficile is the leading cause of diarrhea in elderly hospital and nursing home patients. It also affects cancer patients and others with compromised immune systems. There are more than 500,000 cases each year and 15,000 to 20,000 deaths.

“Developing treatments to combat serious public health threats such as hospital infections is the type of research work that occurs at national research universities like UT Arlington,” said Ron Elsenbaumer, UT Arlington Vice President for Research. “Dr. Hurdle’s work could be the first step toward a valuable new therapy that will help save lives.”

Reutericyclin is an antimicrobial compound produced naturally by a probiotic organism called Lactobacillus reuteri. Hurdle and Lee have already produced synthetic forms of reutericyclin in the lab with improved antibacterial properties.

In previous research, they’ve shown that the reutericyclin compounds rapidly kill C. difficile in its stationary phase, when it stops growing and begins to release the dangerous toxins that cause diarrhea. That is something antibiotics currently used to treat the condition haven’t achieved, Hurdle said. It is also effective against growing cells.

“C. difficile infections have become more widespread and difficult to treat over the past ten years, with high rates of relapse,” said Hurdle, who joined the UT Arlington 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 for C. difficile infections.”

Hurdle and Lee will use the five-year grant from NIH to improve the effectiveness of their reutericyclin compounds and explore how it works 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 the bacteria needs to survive.

Hurdle said reutericyclin might also be an attractive treatment because it targets C. difficile without doing “collateral damage” to bacteria needed to maintain a healthy gastrointestinal environment.

Results from previous work by Hurdle and Lee were recently published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy in a paper entitled: “Reutericyclin and related analogues kill stationary phase Clostridium difficile at achievable colonic concentrations.”

Hurdle and Lee also believe that reutericyclins could be used to coat the surface of biomedical implants to prevent contamination of devices with bacteria such as MRSA and Staphylococcus epidermidis. Those bacteria cause persistent infections responsible for the failure of several commonly used medical implants.