November 28, 2015
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Children's hospital receives grant for antibacterial strategy

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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded researchers at MassGeneral Hospital for Children a grant to explore a novel strategy that aims to “disarm” dangerous bacteria, according to a press release.

Hospital researchers, led by Alessio Fasano, MD, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will develop pathogen-specific bacteriophages capable of deactivating harmful bacteria. The researchers will focus on Shigella flexneri, which infects millions of people annually and often causes mortality, particularly in children aged younger than 5 years in developing countries, the release said.

“The recent rise of environmental enteropathy, a functional pediatric intestinal illness that does not respond to nutritional therapy, greatly accelerates the need for alternative therapies as well as successful vaccines,” the release said.

The bacteriophage’s effectiveness will be tested in an artificially grown, in vitro mini-organ, developed by researchers at MassGeneral’s Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center. The bacteriophage will defuse the type III secretion system used to secrete proteins for the pathogen, promoting its survival within the host. Beneficial bacteria often affected by antibiotic treatment will be protected.

The Gates foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations initiative will fund the “Disarming Type III Secretion System of Enteric Pathogens” program. The initiative supports ideas that could potentially solve global health and development challenges. Hospital researchers will initially receive $100,000 twice annually. If the project is successful, the institution could receive a follow-up grant worth up to $1 million.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be accepting new applications for the next Grand Challenges Explorations in March, according to the release.