Combating Super-bugs with Smarter Antibiotics

Researching the evolution of super-bugs and creating stronger, more effective antibiotics

As an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering and the principal investigator of the Chatterjee Research Lab, Dr. Chatterjee is making strides toward reducing antibiotic resistance and ensuring better health for all humans. Since Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, the human fight against pathogens and the diseases they cause has improved dramatically. Current research will tell us though, that the microbes are beginning to retaliate in the form of "super-bugs", antibiotic-resistant microbes that do not respond to antibiotic treatment. Dr. Anushree Chatterjee of the University of Colorado, Boulder is at the front lines of this fight, not only creating technology that can synthesize and provide insight into the pathogen's genome, but also assisting in the development of new "smart antibiotics" designed to combat resistance and evolution.

Dr. Chatterjee's work straddles both clinical and corporate settings and can be divided into three categories: an understanding side in which research on microbes is executed in order to yield more information about how bugs evolve, a diagnostic side where a specific pathogen can be identified, and a therapeutic side, where "smart therapy" is applied to antibiotic development so that humans can gain an edge in this arms race.

    • Dr. Chatterjee and her team have discovered that there are changes in the genome of microbes that enable that pathogen to develop antibiotic resistance. There are specific sequences of genetic data that provide microbes with characteristics that combat and negate the effects of antibiotics. Once that gene is developed, it is often shared with other cells of the same type, creating an antibiotic-resistant strain of microbe. Dr. Chatterjee continues to research this area while trying to discover more resistance-causing sequences.

    • Traditional biopsy methods involve subjecting a sample to enzymes, which then react with the sample to yield information about potential infections; in doing so it also destroys the sample. Dr. Chatterjee has developed a new and innovative approach to detect infectious "bugs" using nanotechnology. Using Dr. Chatterjee's method, a blood/urine sample (typically) is subjected to nanobytes programmed to execute a nano-electronic sequencing method. This technology is able to sequence a single molecule of DNA and detect even trace levels of infection in a subject, which is far earlier than traditional methods. Furthermore, with this method no additional specialty agents, such as enzymes, are required beyond the tissue sample and the nanotechnology. Diagnoses are non-invasive and non-destructive, meaning after analysis the tissue sample can be permanently archived.

    • Dr. Chatterjee's research has revealed that changes in the genome of microbes has allowed bugs to develop antibiotic resistance. Working with a drug-resistant strain of Escherichia coli and Salmonella Enterica, Dr. Chatterjee has developed RNA-based therapeutic molecules that target beta-lactamases, enzymes that provide resistant characteristics to antibiotics. These chemically synthesized  molecules are able to directly target the genetic sequence known to cause resistance, and research confirms that microbes subjected to this regimen have been re-sensitized to antibiotic treatment. Next-generation antibiotics will have to exhibit these tendencies and be able to adapt with pathogens.

A patient infected with a common disease is typically prescribed antibiotics and instructed to consume their prescription and wait until the infection is neutralized. With antibiotic-resistant microbes, the very treatment that is intended to cure the problem will only exacerbate the severity of the infection. It is therefore crucial to have accurate diagnosis of pathogens as early as possible, and to treat them accordingly. Modern medicine has extended the average human life immensely, but the populating of "super-bugs" carries the threat of reversing that trend. Not only must we detect these bugs early on, but current treatments and antibiotics must be redesigned in order to prevent the growth of resistance.

Bio

Though initially controversial in nature, Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution continues to be taught in schools at all levels and redefine our understanding of natural selection and how life functions on earth. The ideas of evolution and adapting to one's environment has resonated with Dr. Anushree Chatterjee since she first learned about them in her 8th grade biology class. It was at this point that she recognized nature's talent as an engineer, mastering the art of creating optimal organisms at the molecular level. Dr. Chatterjee has channeled this interest into a promising career in molecular biology, honing in on nature's natural ability to create and mimic it in a clinical environment.

Before completing her doctoral studies at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Chatterjee earned her Masters and Bachelors of Technology degrees from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi in her native India. The University of Colorado awarded Dr. Chatterjee the New Inventor of the Year award for her work on nano-electronic sequencing method.

Dr. Chatterjee has 2 current patents, one of which has provisional status:

  1. Nagpal P., Chatterjee A., Ribot J.C., Provisional Patent Application Number: 61/877,634, "Third generation sequencing using STM-STS for fast detection of single DNA molecules and single nucleotide modifications"
  2. Chatterjee A. and Bhaskarwar, A.N., Patent no. 2427/DEL/2007, "A process of preparation of pollution preventing temperature sensitive lithographic ink composition and product thereof".

 

In the News

Toward Making Resistance Truly Futile

A key step in the fight against spread of antibiotic resistance in bacteria

U of M researchers to pathogenic bacteria: Resistance is futile

A University of Minnesota-led researcher has discovered how a genetic "switch" control the spread of antibiotic resistance in certain pathogenic bacteria

Awards

New Inventor of the Year

University of Colorado