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Drug-resistant Bacteria Targeted by Super-computing Chemistry Professor

The fight against drug-resistant bacteria is being waged in a super-computing lab at Duquesne University.

Dr. Jeffrey Evanseck, Lauritis Chair of Teaching and Technology and a professor of chemistry at Duquesne, in collaboration with Dr. Steven Firestine, a former Duquesne pharmacy faculty member now at Wayne State in Detroit, is working on a $1.3 million project funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to disarm these micro-organisms and help to spare the 19,000 lives lost each year to antibiotic-resistant infections.

“Unfortunately, in the last 40 years, only two new classes of antibiotics have been introduced to the public, and resistance to these agents is already known,” said Evanseck, who also is director of the Center for Computational Sciences, or super-computing center, at Duquesne. “This makes research exploring the discovery of novel antibacterial agents highly critical.”

Evanseck’s work focuses on a detailed computational investigation of one of the enzymes found in microbial purine biosynthesis—a promising but unexplored area of antimicrobial drug design.

Purines are critical components of many biological systems, including RNA, DNA and cellular energy, Evanseck explained. Cells die if they fail to synthesize purines. Fortunately, microorganisms have two enzymes needed to synthesize purines that are not found in humans, creating a weak link for researchers to attack.

“If scientists can discover compounds that inhibit these enzymes, the agents would selectively kill micro-organisms but have little effect on humans,” Evanseck said.

Over the next four years, Evanseck will use computer models to interpret, predict and test experimental drug designs produced by Wayne State University in Detroit. Other members of the team will use his information to understand how the enzymes work and how to design compounds that thwart the enzymes’ functions.

“Since the 1960s, deaths from infectious diseases have increased, to the point where more people are dying each year in the United States from antibiotic-resistant infections than from complications from the AIDS virus,” said Dr. David Seybert, dean of the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences. “Infectious diseases, along with the risk of bioterrorist attacks, remain a huge threat. Through this research, Duquesne is helping to meet the growing need for new, effective antimicrobial agents.”

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.