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Published: 2018-11-22

Developing molecules that disarm Listeria and Chlamydia bacteria

NEWS Today, antibiotic resistance in bacteria is a major problem worldwide and new pharmaceuticals are needed. In her thesis project, Martina Kulén contributed to the development of new types of antibiotics, antivirulence drugs, that do not kill bacteria, but only disarm them.

Antibiotics are not only used to directly cure diseases caused by bacteria, but are also vital in surgery, neonatal care and cancer treatments to prevent possible bacterial infections. However, over-use and incorrect use of antibiotics is extensive today, which has led to growing resistance development in bacteria that occurs at a much faster pace than before. The consequences of not having effective antibiotic medications are extensive and by 2050 more than ten million people per year are estimated to die as a result of resistant diseases.

Antivirulence drugs disarm the bacteria in contrast to traditional antibiotics, which work by killing bacteria or stopping bacterial growth. In her thesis, the chemist Martina Kulén conducted research to find antivirulence drugs against two different bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes and Chlamydia trachomatis. In her research, she developed molecules – the active substance in the medication – called 2-pyridones.

"Within the Listeria project, I designed these 2-pyridones to inhibit the bacteria's pathogenic ability by turning off the bacteria's on/off switch that activates it. In the Chlamydia project, I made very effective 2-pyridones that make the Chlamydia bacteria unable to cause infection."

Some of the ways researchers can disarm the bacteria are by cutting the bacteria's hair (which the bacteria use to attach to human cells) or by preventing the bacteria from activating their pathogenic ability, their virulence.

"So we keep the bacteria from being able to spread the disease in the body, but the bacteria will still be alive. The body's own immune system can then go in and clear out the disarmed bacteria. This way, we hope to reduce the risk of resistance development in the bacteria."

Martina Kulén was raised on the Swedish west coast and earned her Master's degree in chemistry at the University of Gothenburg in 2013. She then moved to Umeå and began her doctoral studies in organic chemistry at Umeå University.

Read the entire thesis digitally