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USF Receives Anti-MRSA Compound Patent

Aimee Blodgett
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA, is one of the most dangerous infections around, thanks to its resistance to most treatments, and its ability to easily spread to patients in high-risk areas such as hospitals and nursing homes.

Microbiologists and chemists at the University of South Florida have received a U.S. patent for a synthetic compound they developed that shows promise in fighting the infection.

"In my lab, what we do is look for new treatment options for MRSA and other bacteria too because there are very few treatment options left - the medicine cabinet's pretty bare," said USF Associate Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Biology Lindsey "Les" Shaw, Ph.D.

For the past five years, Shaw and microbiology graduate student Whittney Burda, along with a team of USF chemists (including Roman Manetsch, who's now at Northeastern University) have been working on a class of compounds called quinazoline.

While previously used to treat malaria and cancer, work by the USF chemists resulted in a synthetic version of quinazoline that showed potential as antibacterial agents.

"They're wizards," Shaw said with a laugh. "They can take chemical structures and molecules and tweak and play with them, almost like Lego building blocks and create new derivatives, new variants and produce things that before, no one's ever done."

Credit Katy Hennig / USF News
The Florida Channel
MRSA bacteria

"There's a specific pathway in the (MRSA) bacteria that is used to create fundamental building blocks for life, and we as humans don't have quite the same pathway," Shaw explained. "We find that these (quinazoline) molecules target this important pathway in bacteria, and for MRSA and a couple of other drug-resistant bacteria, they do not seem to like these molecules when we apply them, not only in the lab...but these quinazoline compounds, they work very well for curing mice infection."

According to Shaw, it will probably take another five years of research and development to come up with a treatment that can be tested on humans.

"That backwards and forwards, creating and refining and perfecting is what one really needs to go through," Shaw said. "They've cleared a lot of really important hurdles thus many things don't even get to this stage... Now we need another good few years to refine and test and get the safety really nailed down before we think about going near a human being."

You can find out more about the research in the interview posted above and in this video from USF News.

Mark Schreiner is a reporter with WUSF in Tampa. WUSF is a partner with Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Mark Schreiner has been the producer and reporter for "University Beat" on WUSF 89.7 FM since 2001 and on WUSF TV from 2007-2017.