A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Cracking Bacteria’s Armor

February 21, 2012

Monique van Hoek

Bad enough are the scars and pain caused by wounds sustained on the battlefield or those brought on by diabetes. But making matters worse are the infection-causing bacteria found in wounds that sometimes lead to amputations or, even worse, death.

Killing bacteria is central to Monique van Hoek’s research, as she and her team, which includes Mason researcher Barney Bishop, have developed new antimicrobial peptides, or small chains of amino acids, that are able to disrupt the protective coating that surrounds bacteria.

Called biofilm, this biological armor makes bacteria resistant to antimicrobial agents such as antibiotics. “This is one reason why these wounds are difficult to treat,” says van Hoek, assistant professor in the College of Science’s School of Systems Biology and a researcher with the National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases.

To reverse this resistance, van Hoek’s peptides were designed to hamper the formation of biofilm, thus making the bacteria easier to kill. Not stopping there, after the biofilm has been neutralized, the peptides are then able to attack and destroy the bacteria on their own. “We get a two-for-one impact here,” she says.

van Hoek and her team have already published six papers on their antimicrobial peptides. A seed grant from Mason’s College of Science provided funding for the project. Next, the team hopes to acquire additional funding to perform tests on animal models.

—Jason Jacks

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