Speakers: Bonnie Bassler (Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Princeton University) and Arturo Casadevall (Albert Einstein College of Medicine)
Organizers: S. Marvin Friedman (Hunter College, CUNY), Jennifer S. Henry (The New York Academy of Sciences)Presented by the Emerging Infectious Diseases & Microbiology Discussion Group
Reported by Anubhav Kaul | Posted May 10, 2012
The enigmas of nature and science present vast opportunities for discovering novel therapeutics. The quest for knowledge and solutions leads to unanticipated innovation as disciplines intersect and as researchers converge on particular scientific questions. Thus, the findings from one discipline may benefit another avenue of scientific exploration. A symposium held on the evening of Wednesday, April 4, 2012, Discovering Antibacterial and Anticancer Therapeutics in Unexpected Places, attested to the benefit of these innovative approaches to drug discovery and presented a wide array of intriguing accounts in antimicrobial and anticancer therapy development. Bonnie Bassler and Arturo Casadevall enlightened the audience with their work on quorum sensing in bacteria and on melanin in fungal organisms, respectively.
After detailing what researchers have learned from investigations of bacterial communication, Bassler described how she is exploiting the quorum sensing method bacteria use to coordinate growth. Quorum sensing—one way bacteria identify and count members of their species and of other bacterial species in their surroundings—allows bacterial communities to coordinate the transcription of important, and sometimes pathogenic, factors. By shutting down quorum sensing in the pathogenic Chromobacterium violaceum, Bassler's team was able to increase the survival time of nematodes infected with the bacteria. These results raise the possibility that similar manipulations could influence bacterial propagation in humans, leading to less virulent disease. Arturo Casadevall has been using discoveries from studies of Cryptococcus neoformans to probe promising new cancer treatments. Melanin produced by C. neoformans and deposited in the yeast's cell walls confers resistance to ultraviolet light, heat, enzymatic degradation, heavy metal ions, oxidized free radicals, defensins, and even to anti-fungal agents. By targeting the melanin that protects yeast cells and melanoma tumor cells alike from radiation, researchers may be able to render melanoma more vulnerable to treatment. In fact, in Casadevall's experiments, tumors in mice implanted with human melanoma stopped growing when the mice were treated with radiolabeled antibodies against fungal melanin. Bassler's and Casadevall's results demonstrate the fortuitous application of molecular findings from microbial research to problems of great significance to human health.
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Bonnie Bassler, PhD (Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Princeton University)
Arturo Casadevall, MD, PhD (Albert Einstein College of Medicine)