National Institutes of Health grant funds K-State professor’s antibiotics research

With antibiotic resistance on the rise, researchers are striving to find ways to treat bacterial infections. (Photo Illustration by Cassandra Nguyen | Collegian Media Group)

Director of the Kansas State Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics Michal Zolkiewski conducts research on new antibiotics — his work will now be funded by a $1.9 million, four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health.

“Decades of global antibiotic misuse and overuse, along with a lack of commercial incentives to develop new drugs have brought us to a point where antimicrobial resistance is a major threat to human health,” Zolkiewski said.

Zolkiewski said he hopes his team’s research will prevent future deaths caused by antibiotic resistance — though he is working in what he would call “unknown territory.”

“When you design new antibiotic, you target a particular component of a pathogen cell,” Zolkiewski said. “That protein becomes your target. In our case, we are exploring a new target no one [has] looked at and we are hoping this new target will be very broad.”

If all goes well, Zolkiewski said he hopes to produce breakthroughs in tough diseases.

“The goal is to produce new antibiotics that will be used in a very broad way,” Zolkiewski said. “It could affect things ranging from bacteria, fungi and even some more sophisticated pathogens like plasmodium — the cause of malaria.”

Zolkiewski and his team produced some results — the outlook of which aided in receiving the grant.

“We received some preliminary funding for this project and we received some preliminary results which helped us win this particular award,” Zolkiewski said.

With new research comes the opportunity for graduate students interested in biochemistry, Zolkiewski said.

“The grant will support personnel in my lab, which includes graduate students,” he said. “So this will allow me to train a few more graduate students and they will have an opportunity to participate in really exciting research.”