Lamichhane ’96 Earns $1.5 Million Grant

October 17, 2011

Gyanu Lamichhane, a 1999 Wabash graduate and researcher at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, has drawn the world several steps closer in finding a better, faster and reliable treatment for tuberculosis (TB), which kills over two million people across the globe each year.

His latest findings have paved the way for a much faster approach of weakening the TB causing bacterium, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which could potentially shorten TB treatment that now takes at least six months.

In recognition of his achievement, the National Institutes of Health honored Lamichhane with the 2011 New Innovator Award, which includes direct funding of $ 1.5 million for his research.

Lamichhane has discovered the key role of enzyme L,D-transpeptidase in forming chemical linkages inside the protective cell wall in Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria responsible for TB diseases (or tuberculosis). The same enzyme and chemical linkages help hold together the cell walls of other disease-causing bacteria, including salmonella, Enterococcus and Escherichia coli.

Lamichhane’s recent research shows that when L,D-transpeptidase is unable to function, especially in chronic infections when the enzyme is more active, the TB bacterium loses its virulence, as chemical linkage formation stalls and the bacterial cell wall weakens. This, in turn, exposes other chemical linkages holding the cell wall together, linkages that are known targets of widely prescribed beta-lactam drugs, such as amoxicillin.

As part of the new project, Lamichhane plans to investigate chemicals that interfere with L,D-transpeptidase activity and whether these compounds, when used in combination with antibiotics, hasten treatment of chronic TB or other kinds of bacterial infection. He will also study the enzyme’s fundamental role in the physiology of the bacterial cell wall.

“Our research shows the potential for relatively simple genetic observations about bacterial enzymes to have a broad and powerful impact on possible treatments for a host of infectious diseases,” says Lamichhane, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins.

“As a whole new class of drugs, L,D-transpeptidase inhibitors, plus antibiotics, could potentially shorten TB treatment, which now takes a minimum of six months, and it could offer new treatment options to people who have developed drug resistance,” he adds.

Experts estimate that two billion people worldwide are infected with tuberculosis, 10 million of whom fall ill each year. Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death among people co-infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, leading to some half-million deaths annually among those co-infected.

Information for this story was provided by eKantipur.com and Johns Hopkins University.

 


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