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Thursday 10 March 2022 8:54am

caramainDr Cara Adolph

Timaru-raised Dr Cara Adolph shares her PhD research on Mycobacterium tuberculosis and why she decided to study at the University of Otago.

M. tuberculosis is a bacterium that causes the disease tuberculosis (TB), which kills approximately 1.5 million people each year.

Managing TB is challenging due to the long treatment period of six to 24 months, as well as the possibility of a patient developing antibiotic resistance which can make drugs ineffective.

Realising the need for research in this area, Dr Adolph started her PhD by trying to find new vulnerabilities in the M. tuberculosis bacterium that could be targeted for antibiotic development.

She focused on looking at what would happen if the enzymes succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) and fumarate reductase (FRD), both of which are present in M. tuberculosis, were inhibited.

By inhibiting these enzymes in the bacterium, she could identify what their function was and how essential they were.

This helped her identify that the bacterium needed SDH enzymes in order to grow and, when this enzyme was inhibited, some of the drugs used to treat TB were more effective.

“Overall, I hope that SDH inhibitors will one day be used in new TB regimens to reduce the duration of treatment and improve outcomes for patients,” says Dr Adolph.

“TB kills more people than any other infectious disease, apart from COVID-19, and so I was glad to do my PhD on a project that responds in some way to this need.”

Dr Adolph is now continuing her research on this bacterium at the University as a Postdoctoral Fellow, and credits her supervisors, Professor Greg Cook and Dr Matthew McNeil, for all their support and guidance throughout her PhD.

Her decision to study at the University of Otago came from her desire to pursue science-related research which, over time morphed into the more specific interest of microbiology.

“Otago University had a great reputation for science, so I decided to visit during an open day and fell in love with the campus and the city; clearly the right choice considering I'm still here nine years later,” says Dr Adolph.

She attended conferences in both Brisbane and Barcelona to present her research with funding from the University of Otago and the William Georgetti Scholarship.

Written by the School of Biomedical Sciences Communications Adviser, Kelsey Schutte.

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