Biosensor illuminates compounds to aid fight against tuberculosis

May 9th, 2012
A new project by MSU's Robert Abramovitch uses a biosensor that glows green when the TB bug senses low oxygen. The sensor could lead to new treatments. Credit: Courtesy of Robert Abramovitch
For his work on developing new treatments for tuberculosis, a Michigan State University researcher has been named a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Robert Abramovitch of MSU's Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics is using a synthetic biosensor that glows green in response to conditions that mimic human tuberculosis infection. He will screen for compounds that target chronic TB infection and may help shorten therapy or treat multidrug-resistant TB, which does not respond well to existing antibiotics.

Grand Challenges Explorations funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in solving persistent global health and development challenges. Abramovitch's project is one of more than 100 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 8 grants announced today by the Gates Foundation.

"Grand Challenges Explorations encourages individuals worldwide to expand the pipeline of ideas where creative, unorthodox thinking is most urgently needed," said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "We're excited to provide additional funding for select grantees so that they can continue to advance their ideas toward global impact."

To receive funding, Abramovitch and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 8 winners demonstrated a bold idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas that included agriculture development, immunization and nutrition.

"Combating the ongoing tuberculosis epidemic represents one of the major challenges in global health," said Abramovitch, who has appointments with MSU's colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Human Medicine, and AgBioResearch. "The required multidrug, six- to nine-month treatment regimen has fueled the emergence of drug-resistant TB, and new treatments are needed to treat this dangerous disease and reduce the overall length of drug therapy."

To accomplish that, Abramovitch is focusing on an oxygen sensing system naturally occurring in bacteria that the TB bug uses to establish a chronic infection. His project uses a biosensor that glows green when the TB bacterium senses low environmental oxygen, a cue for the bug to infect its host.

By screening more than 250,000 compounds for molecules that prevent TB from "seeing" that cue – essentially blinding the bug – he will find compounds that hinder the disease's ability to maintain a persistent state and allow drugs to treat the disease quicker.

"Once we identify some of those compounds, we can focus on developing new treatments," he said.

Launched in 2008, Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Gates Foundation. More than 600 people in 45 countries have received grants. The program, open to any discipline and organization, uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required.

Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-up grant of up to $1 million.

Provided by Michigan State University

This Phys.org Science News Wire page contains a press release issued by an organization mentioned above and is provided to you “as is” with little or no review from Phys.Org staff.

More news stories

Wild ducks take flight in open cluster

The Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile has taken this beautiful image, dappled with blue stars, of one of the most star-rich open clusters currently ...

Can fair trade plastic save people and the planet?

(Phys.org) —It's old news that open-source 3D printing is cheaper than conventional manufacturing, not to mention greener and incredibly useful for making everything from lab equipment to chess pieces. ...

Study establishes zebrafish as a model for flu study

In the ongoing struggle to prevent and manage seasonal flu outbreaks, animal models of influenza infection are essential to gaining better understanding of innate immune response and screening for new drugs. ...

Ethical behavior can be contagious, study says

A new study from Penn State Smeal College of Business faculty members Steven Huddart and Hong Qu examines the power of social influence on managers' ethical behavior. The Department of Accounting researchers find that managers ...

Characterizing an important reactive intermediate

An international group of researchers led by Dr. Warren E. Piers (University of Calgary) and Dr. Heikki M. Tuononen (University of Jyväskylä) has been able to isolate and characterize an important chemical intermediate ...