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TARGET project: aimed at bacterial resistance

The foremost topic of global medical research in recent decades has been cancer. Today, however, an increasing part of the scientific community is switching its focus to the issue of growing bacterial resistance, which is behind the increasing frequency of failed antibiotic treatment. A team from the Department of Biochemistry of the Faculty of Science at Charles University, led by Assoc. Prof. Markéta Martínková, has joined a project focusing on this phenomenon.


Assoc. Prof. Martínková’s team in biochemistry lab. Photo:  Petr Jan Juračka. 


The JPIAMR initiative (Joint Programming Initiative on Antimicrobial Resistance) was launched in 2011 with the aim of creating an international platform and coordinating national and international research programmes focused on combating growing bacterial resistance to antimicrobial agents. The Czech Republic joined this initiative in 2017.

In the 9th call of this initiative, an international team with Czech representation succeeded with a project entitled “Prevention of Antibiotic Resistance by TARGEted Treatment of Pneumonia in Children (acronym TARGET)“. The coordinator of the project is Assoc. Prof. Marien De Jonge (Radboud University Medical Centre, Nijmegen, The Netherlands) and the Czech principal investigator is Assoc. Prof. Markéta Martínková (Faculty of Science, Charles University). From 1st March 2020, the entire team will have three years to work on the development of a new strategy to fight the antibiotic resistance of pathogenic bacteria.

One of the targets of the project is bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae, source: www.scientificanimations.com, licence ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)


Assoc. Prof. Martínková and her team have been studying the mechanism of oxygen detection by heme-containing sensor proteins in bacteria for some time. Oxygen “sensors” detect changes in the bacterium surroundings and enable it to survive in oxygen-deficient environments. Given that the human body detects oxygen using a completely different mechanism than bacteria (a discovery that was awarded the Nobel Prize last year), the bacterial sensor system may be a very useful therapeutic target to fight bacterial resistance and the growing ineffectiveness of current antibiotics. We can imagine heme-containing sensors as the eyes, ears, nose and tongue of bacteria; if we can determine the exact mechanism of their function, we will be able to decommission these structures leading to bacteria disorientation to such an extent it would be easier to subsequently destroy them.

Assoc. Prof. Martínková’s team is also working on a fast, accurate and reliable method of recognising specific pathogens, which will be an alternative to standard methods used to identify causative agents using microbiological techniques or polymerase chain reactions. A new and revolutionary approach in this research will be an application of the loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) method, which is capable of detecting certain DNA with high specificity and speed in a single test tube. LAMP requires no complex equipment or complicated detection of resulting products. The current standard process for identifying pathogens takes many hours to days, while the newly developed methodology will shorten the process to minutes. This will also help combat resistant bacteria, because we could treat patients almost immediately and wouldn’t have to take the risk of “blindly” administering antibiotics before knowing the results of pathogen identification using current standard methods. Such a procedure does not unnecessarily expose the patient to the side effects of ineffective antibiotics or delay the start of effective treatment, thus reducing the likelihood of spreading the resistant bacteria.

Published: Feb 16, 2020 11:10 AM

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