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Research group gets $7 million to pursue new antibiotic agents

The National Institutes of Health has awarded $7 million to a team of researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin to discover, engineer and produce a promising yet little explored class of antibiotic agents.

The research will look for alternatives to standard antibiotics, which are losing their effectiveness against common infectious agents. Health experts worldwide are concerned about the spread of antibiotic-resistant microbial infections and the shrinking arsenal of compounds that can effectively treat them.

The five-year effort will explore the medical potential of a class of compounds called phosphonates. These compounds already have shown promise in treating infectious diseases such as malaria, and may also be useful in managing some chronic medical conditions. Phosphonates work by inhibiting cellular processes that involve naturally occurring phosphorylated compounds.

"There is the potential to discover a phosphonate inhibitor for every biochemical pathway that involves phosphorylated intermediates," said microbiology professor William W. Metcalf, a principal investigator on the study. "Because these compounds are widespread in biological processes, the range of targets is very large."

Metcalf is one of five principal investigators at the U. of I., all of whom have appointments at the Institute for Genomic Biology. His collaborators are William H. and Janet Lycan professor of chemistry Willem (Wilfred) A. van der Donk, chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Huimin Zhao, chemistry professor Neil Kelleher and biochemistry professor Satish Nair, of the Center for Biophysics and Computational Biology. Jo Handelsman, of the University of Wisconsin, also will contribute to the effort.

Metcalf, a microbial geneticist, has long been intrigued by bacterial phosphate metabolism. He has discovered and biochemically characterized a number of previously unknown enzymes involved
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Contact: Diana Yates
diya@uiuc.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
25-Apr-2007


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