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Michael Federle believes bacteria are smarter than many scientists give them credit for. By studying quorum sensing the means by which bacteria cells communicate with one another Federle, assistant professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is trying to convince sickness-causing microorganisms to remain in a nonhostile state.
Federle is one of 10 U.S. scientists to receive a five-year grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund that brings multidisciplinary approaches to the study of human infectious diseases. The program, based in Research Triangle Park, N. C., provides $500,000 to support accomplished investigators still early in their careers to study what happens at the points where human and microbial systems connect.
Were losing the war with bacteria, Federle says. Every antibiotic weve come up with has some level of resistance.
Federle is studying the bacteria in streptococci, which are responsible for strep throat, cases of meningitis, bacterial pneumonia, endocarditis, erysipelas and the flesh-eating bacteria necrotizing fasciitis. His research explores ways to disrupt biofilms communities of bacteria that live on a surface that are extremely resistant to antibiotics.
Manipulating bacteria that carry health complications is Federles long-term goal. Bacteria enter the body and grow quietly until reaching a certain population density to inflict damage, but quorum sensing can help ward off this illness-breeding form of bodily terrorism.
If we can manipulate bacteria by understanding the chemical signals they use, then we can interfere with the bacterias ability to make people sick, he says. Well try to fool the bacteria by artificially stimulating them.
When he learned he was a recipient of the Burroughs Wellcome grant, Federle says he was flabbergasted, especially considering the exceptional quality and impact of research being conducted by current and past awardees.
I dont consider this work. Im having so much fun unraveling the basic nature of bacterial communication, he adds.
In addition to the Burroughs Wellcome award, Federles research is being funded through a grant from the National Institute of Healths National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Source: University of Illinois at Chicago