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Biology professor and Canada Research Chair Carl Lowenberger, who is researching new ways of creating better antibiotics, has received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

‘Dr. Mosquito’ strikes again with insect ‘LEGO blocks’

November 18, 2010

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Biology professor Carl Lowenberger—affectionately known as Dr. Mosquito for his role in SFU’s Spread the Net anti-malarial bed nets to Africa campaign—is investigating how insects can help in the creation of better antibiotics.

And his work has just received a financial boost from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Lowenberger’s is one of 65 projects selected from more than 2,400 proposals to receive a $100,000 Grand Challenges explorations grant from the Microsoft billionaire philanthropist’s foundation to “explore bold and largely unproven ways” of improving health in developing countries.

Lowenberger is studying insect anti-microbial peptides, which are essentially antibiotics that insects use to eliminate their own parasites and disease-causing agents.
“The idea is to identify regions of these peptides that bind to specific human pathogens such as the tuberculosis bacterium or the drug-resistant bacterium that shows up in hospitals, Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA,” says Lowenberger.

“We want to add small peptides to these binding regions that will effectively poke holes in the bacterium and kill it. In the bigger picture, these peptide-killing regions can be exchanged with other killing peptides to prevent or slow the development of resistance.”

Lowenberger, a Canada Research Chair in parasites and vectors of disease, says he hopes to develop different antibiotic components that can be rearranged like “LEGO blocks”.

“It’s like taking two blue pieces and replacing them with a yellow and red piece that produce a lethal peptide, with a different structure and enhanced activity against specific bacteria that cause human disease,” he explains.  “The grant will allow us to take on some high-risk research that, if we are right in our design, would help us identify targets and molecules to combine in the creation of more effective antibiotics,” he says.

Lowenberger was a key player in SFU’s 2010 Spread the Net win, raising more money to send bed nets to Africa than any other Canadian university. www.sfu.ca/biology/faculty/lowenberger/ and www.grandchallenges.org

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