Chemical, clinical duo perfecting antibiotics

Two professors are developing a way to use computer simulations to speed up the normally costly and time-consuming task of creating new antibiotics.

Michael Nikolaou, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and Vincent Tam, associate professor of clinical sciences, are leading the project.

“By capturing key interactions between drugs and bacteria, we can evaluate a large number of variables by use of computer simulations,” Tam said.

According to Nikolaou, the experimentation process starts with preliminary data and the use of mathematical modeling and computer simulation to narrow down the experimental data.

“After you start using a new antibiotic, bacteria starts to develop a resistance, so there is a perpetual need to develop new antibiotics,” Nikolaou said.

Traditional methods of drug development can take 10 to 20 years and hundreds of millions of dollars, and there is not enough time or resources to evaluate all the combinations of variables. This forces the researcher to rely somewhat on luck when choosing combinations, Tam said.

A very large amount of the experiments that are done come out negative, which means that either the antibiotic does not have a therapeutic effect or the dose of the antibiotic is toxic, Nikolaou said.

The computer simulation would act as a virtual screening process, said Tam.

“It would help accelerate development by suggesting experiments with higher rates of success,” Nikolaou said.

This method, he said, will also help clinics identify the correct treatment for a patient, which is typically a slow process.

The correct dosage, frequency of dosage and length of treatment are all factors that this method would help to determine, explained Tam.

The first wave of funding for the research came through the University’s Grants to Enhance and Advance Research program.

Subsequent support has been granted by the National Science Foundation and pharmaceutical companies.

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