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Immunotherapy: A Novel Approach to Fighting Drug-Resistant Bacteria

Marcos Pires, PhD, assistant professor at Lehigh University, explains the inspiration behind his team’s research in immunotherapy as a new way to fight bacterial infection.

Marcos Pires, PhD, assistant professor at Lehigh University, explains the inspiration behind his team’s research in immunotherapy as a new way to fight bacterial infection.

Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability)

“We started studying alternative methods to go after bacteria because we are at a point right now where a lot of the current antibiotics that are FDA-approved, either don’t work anymore or they work a lot less than they used to. It’s projected that in the near future, [last resort antibiotics] may stop working and when that time comes, the way that we know modern medicine can change quite a bit. We’re used to bacterial infections being something that’s simple to treat, usually with a short course of antibiotics, which is usually very cheap. When the time comes that a lot of the bacteria become resistant to those antibiotics, infections, even simple infections, can become life threatening.

On top of that, there’s the complication that a lot of other medical procedures also rely on antibiotics to be able to perform successfully. This includes: organ transplantation, cancer chemotherapy, invasive operations, and in the backbone of a lot of these procedures, antibiotics represent a way to prevent infection. In that case, it’s not necessarily going into curing infection but just keep[ing infection] at bay.

We’re interested in finding ways that we can try to slow down the emergence of drug-resistant, or at least the prevalence of drug-resistant bacteria, by trying to come up with new antibiotics. Now, the problem has been that it’s easier said than done. It has been tried; it has been tried for several decades, and this includes billions of dollars in a very dedicated effort on the part of pharmaceutical companies, and yet, it’s been difficult to come up with new antibiotics.

Given our resources, we tried to come up with a way that was unique, and that’s where the story started for us. We started to try and come up with a way that would, in essence, give the same end-result, which is the destruction, or the killing of bacteria, but perhaps in an untraditional way. Traditional antibiotics, what they do is they go in and disrupt a critical or essential process in bacteria. So, we decided to at least start thinking about other ways that we can get the same [end] product or the same result but without a traditional antibiotic; that was the beginning of our research.”