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Grant awarded for novel approach to preventing biofilm-based infections

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Wednesday, 17 December 2014 3:42pm

Monica Gerth
Dr Monica Gerth

A University of Otago biochemist has been awarded a $50,000 grant to develop enzymes that prevent infection-causing biofilms from growing on catheters and other medical devices.

Biofilms are bacterial communities that attach to surfaces and are estimated to be responsible for nearly two-thirds of all human infections, including serious complications following joint implant surgery.

Dr Monica Gerth has been awarded the 2014 Division of Health Sciences’ Translational Research Grant to test a novel antimicrobial enzyme she has developed to prevent biofilm formation.

The enzyme has been engineered to block a key bacterial process called ‘quorum sensing’. Many bacterial pathogens use quorum sensing to communicate and change their behaviour to initiate a biofilm.

Dr Gerth says her enzyme-based approach could potentially stop biofilms, which help bacteria shield themselves from antibiotics and the body’s immune responses, before they can start.

She will use the grant to test her engineered enzymes against various models of biofilm formation, and also explore the enzymes’ use as a coating on catheters and other internal medical devices such as hip and knee implants.

“As an early career researcher, I’m honoured to win this Translational Research Grant. When I started at Otago in 2012, I knew I wanted my lab to do research that made a real difference. To go from ‘crazy idea’ to potentially translating my research in just two years is very exciting!”

The grant aims to assist researchers in the pursuit of research which translates into societal benefits. Dr Gerth will work closely with the University’s commercialisation arm, Otago Innovation Ltd, to plan and carry out research activities that ‘prove the concept’ of the enzymes.

For more information, contact:

Dr Monica Gerth
Department of Biochemistry
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 7836
Email monica.gerth@otago.ac.nz

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