Developing molecules to counter antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Beta-lactamase

Emily Harry is generating new inhibitors of beta-lactamase, a bacterial enzyme responsible for the degradation of penicillin and the resultant bacterial resistance.

SMU senior Emily Harry is generating new inhibitors of beta-lactamase, a bacterial enzyme responsible for the degradation of penicillin and the resultant bacterial resistance to this antibiotic.

This undergraduate research, performed in the laboratory of SMU Professor John Buynak, has involved collaborations with Merck Inc., Case Western Reserve University, and a number of other academic and industrial laboratories. The new inhibitors can be co-administered, together with beta-lactam antibiotics (like penicillins and cephalosporins) to kill resistant strains.

The research requires numerous skills, beginning with understanding what type of structural modification is desired, knowing enough synthetic chemistry to put the pieces together, handling the chemicals, and identifying and purifying the products of the synthetic reactions.

Emily uses state-of-the-art analytical instrumentation, such as the Chemistry Department’s nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers, to perform analyses and determine structure.

Professor Buynak characterizes her as one of the most patient researchers to work in the lab in the past ten years. “Emily has the inherent fascination with scientific discovery that is needed for success. She is always willing to go the extra mile to do the experiment right, regardless of how much effort and time it might require. Working with her is enjoyable.”

The compounds that Emily has prepared are some of the most potent inhibitors of the bacterial enzymes that have been prepared to date. Results from her research will be presented at upcoming international meetings. Her research is supported from Dr. Buynak’s research funds in addition to the university’s URA program.

Emily was able to attend the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC) last year in San Francisco. Dr. Buynak hopes to send her to the upcoming American Chemical Society meeting in Boston.

“I want her to be able to see how science is done and how the fields of chemistry, biology, and medicine interface.”

About Kathleen Tibbetts

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