New effort to battle antibiotic resistance rallies researchers throughout Harvard University

NIH Grants $5 million for the Fight

Boston. MA--The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have awarded $5 million to an interdisciplinary group of Harvard researchers to launch the “Harvard-wide Program on Antibiotic Resistance.” Headed by Michael S. Gilmore, Ph.D., (Senior Scientist, Schepens Eye Research Institute and Schepens Professor of Ophthalmology [Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics], HMS), the group is uniting Harvard institutions in the fight against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other antibiotic resistant infection. The goal of the project is for the research team with a range of expertise to tackle the problem from different directions, and then to translate those findings into better treatments.

It shocked many a year and a half ago when CDC researchers noted that methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) were killing more in the US than HIV/AIDS (over 18,000 deaths per year). According to Gilmore, other penicillin resistant strains of S. aureus cause almost half again as many deaths. Worse, since 2002, MRSA have been acquiring resistance to one of the last line drugs used to treat those infections, vancomycin, a problem he has been studying with scientists at CDC.

MRSA are a major concern for hospitalized patients. More recently they have begun causing infections in healthy individuals in the community as well -- approximately 15% of invasive MRSA infections occur in patients with no known underlying cause. Most of these infections begin as skin infections, some acquired in sports locker rooms and other shared facilities. The infections become life-threatening when the microbe enters the bloodstream. New strains of MRSA have emerged that are causing many of the community infections.

Gilmore credits the Harvard-wide Microbial Sciences Initiative (an initiative launched in 2004 to bring together microbiology researchers from all Harvard campuses), the Harvard Catalyst Clinical and Translational Science Center, and a Schepens program to launch interdisciplinary research projects, for bringing this team together.

“We have been friends and collaborators on this important problem and also the new interdisciplinary and translational efforts on campus. Formalizing these relationships was a small and logical step that each of us embraced. We were lucky that all of the pieces fell into place so well,” said Gilmore. 

Working with molecular microbiologist Gilmore are: David Hooper, MD (Associate Chief of Infectious Diseases and Head of Infection Control, MGH and Professor of Medicine, HMS); Suzanne Walker, Ph.D. (Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, HMS); Eleftherios Mylonakis, MD, PhD (Assistant Professor of Medicine, HMS and Member, Infectious Diseases, MGH); and Frederick M. Ausubel, Ph.D., Professor of Genetics HMS, and Member, Molecular Biology, MGH).

Walker, Mylonakis and Ausubel will be taking different high-throughput approaches to screen libraries of compounds for possible new drugs. Gilmore, Hooper and Mylonakis will then test these compounds for their ability to clear an infection, and will also examine possible pathways for the development of resistance. These projects will additionally benefit from input from, Richard Losick, Ph.D. (Harvard College Professor and Maria Moors Cabot Professor of Biology), who will assist Gilmore on his subproject, as well as head an advisory panel.

Other world leaders in the area of antibiotic resistance who will be members of the advisory panel are Christopher T. Walsh, Ph.D., (Hamilton Kuhn Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, HMS); Jared Silverman, Ph.D. (Senior Director, In Vitro Biology, Cubist Pharmaceuticals, Inc.), and Steven J. Projan, Ph.D (Vice President and Global Head, Infectious Diseases, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Inc.). “The involvement of thought leaders from the pharmaceutical industry will be an important key to the ultimate translation of the results of this project,” according to Gilmore.

More information on this project can be obtained by email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.