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Message from the Former Chancellor

Join Jim Woodward in reflecting on 2009 and looking to a hopeful and confident future.

Resistance is futile

melander and cavanagh

Slowly but steadily, microbes are winning the battle against modern medicine.

Today half of all staph infections are resistant to antibiotics, putting millions at risk for fatal diseases like necrotizing pneumonia and severe sepsis. Superbugs fill the headlines with an ominous alphabet soup of disease: MRSA, MDRAB, VRE, and LRE, to name a few.

But the battle may be turning against the microbes. Researchers at NC State have developed chemical compounds that strip microorganisms of their resistance, making them vulnerable—once again—to existing antibiotics.

This novel approach was developed by Dr. Christian Melander (pictured above, on right), assistant professor of chemistry, and Dr. John Cavanagh (pictured above, on left), professor of molecular and structural biochemistry.


They observed that sea sponges remain healthy by fighting off toxic biofilms, the same bacterial accumulations that give many pathogens their antibiotic resistance. Taking their cue from nature, they developed a way to chemically break down these complex biofilms into single-celled bacteria, allowing common antibiotics to do their job.

To test the compounds, the researchers decided to tackle two of the most insidious problems in medicine: methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and multi-drug resistant Acinetobacter baumannii (MDRAB). MRSA is a widespread infection resistant to more than a dozen common antibiotics. MDRAB is up to 1,000 times more resistant than MRSA.

In both cases, the compounds enabled conventional antibiotics to work again. The researchers are now collaborating with Walter Reed Army Medical Center to evaluate these compounds in the treatment of war wounds.

They’ve created a start-up company called Agile Sciences and have partnered with SePRO Corporation—founded by NC State alumnus Bill Cullpepper—to evaluate the compounds in agricultural markets.