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UB’s top medical discoveries of 2012: part two

Freelance Writer

Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013 17:02


Spectrum File Photo

UB is known as a research institution, but many students aren’t aware of what professors are doing outside their classrooms. The Huffington Post used UB as an example of advances in scientific research, coinciding with innovative research and medical discoveries that have come out of UB in 2012.


Bacterial resistance eliminator

Use: A protein complex that, when combined with antibiotic treatments, can be more powerful than the two individual treatments alone

Researchers:Dr. Anders Hakansson, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology, and Laura R. Marks and Hazeline Hakansson from the department of microbiology and immunology


HAMLET is a protein complex found in human breast milk that effectively kills pneumococci and other respiratory tract pathogens. Although he was initially interested in respiratory tract infections, Hakansson began his research studying the protein’s process for destroying tumor cells. In doing so, he found a component of the cell that links tumor cells with bacterial cells. Using this link, he introduced HAMLET to Streptococcus pneumoniae, commonly known as pneumonia – one of the largest causes of pediatric and geriatric death and disease from respiratory tract infections.

The bacteria live in the human nasal and pharyngeal cavities, causing infections such as pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis by spreading to previously uninfected sites. HAMLET uses a mechanism not found in other drugs and can specifically destroy the pneumonia bacteria. Although it will not destroy other strains of the streptococcus bacteria entirely, Hakansson found it does have some effect that is seen in destruction of the S. pneumococcus.

“There’s a missing link in the pathway that lets the bacteria survive,” Hakansson said.

The lab began to treat other bacteria, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aurea (MRSA), Vancomyacin-resistant enterococcus and E. coli with a combination of HAMLET and commonly used antibiotics. These bacteria are usually treated with highly toxic antibiotics and lengthy hospital stays. MRSA and VRE infections can also result in surgery or loss of a limb. In the presence of Hakansson’s protein, however, these powerful and highly contagious infections lose their hyper-resistance.

“You can use treatments that are currently on the market, that are not very toxic, that are very good, and that have been working for years until this resistance pattern appeared,” Hakannson explained. “We have a drug that will potentially not allow for resistance, which usually occurs.”

The biggest issue that HAMLET tackles is resistance. While most antibiotics fall short and allow for resistance to develop, the protein weakens the cell to allow for gentle pharmaceutical treatments and a swift recovery. If such success is found in clinical trials, HAMLET may indefinitely remove bacterial resistance as a stumbling block in clinical treatments.


Biofilm eradicator

Use:A mechanism through which metal implants can be used as electrodes to tackle chronic, long-term infections associated with joint replacements and other limb modifications

Researchers:Mark Ehrensberger, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering; Anthony A. Campagnari, a professor of microbiology and immunology; Esther Takeuchi, a professor of chemical and biological engineering; Nicole Luke-Marshall, a research assistant professor of microbiology and immunology


UB engineers and medical researchers have partnered to develop an electrochemical technique for eradicating biofilm infections on metallic or plastic orthopedic implants.

Biofilms are layers of biologically inactive microorganisms, and they’re not susceptible to antibiotics. Biofilms congregate on the surface of metal implants and form thick, impenetrable layers – often with many types of bacteria – which makes treatment extremely difficult without removing the implant.

“Infections that occur in patients with implants are very severe and they’re usually chronic, long-term style infections,” Campagnari said. “The problem we’re trying to address is that once an implant gets an infection, that’s very challenging to treat.”

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