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Battling Bacteria

Chemistry professor developing treatment to help the good bacteria battle the bad bacteria in your stomach.
Research  |  Apr 17, 2014  |  By Shane Bevell

UNLV chemist Ernesto Abel-Santos is developing a compound to help maintain a healthier balance in the digestive system after antibiotic treatment. (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Photo Services)

Chemist Ernesto Abel-Santos is working on a compound that could aid your intestinal tract when antibiotics have wiped out some of the "good" bacteria.

His anti-germinant compound, known as CamSA, works by stopping the germination of Clostridium difficile (C. diff). While C. diff can be a normal component of bacteria in the human gut, it can become a problem when the competing bacteria usually present have been wiped out by antibiotic treatment. That situation poses a particular danger for patients with suppressed immune systems, many of whom have been in a hospital, nursing home, surgery center, or similar environment.

In the United States alone, C. diff. is responsible for approximately 500,000 sick patients and 20,000 deaths each year.

Abel-Santos' research shows that his compound does basically the same job competing gut bacteria normally would do -- it keeps the C. diff spores from germinating and, as a result, prevents infection. He is pursuing a patent for his discovery through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The professor used the Research Fund for Innovation and Development (RFID) money to investigate his anti-germinant compound in mice. He found that CamSA synergizes with antibiotics to protect hamsters from C. difficile.

"This is an exciting result since it shows that combination therapy might work against C. diff," he said.

Recently, he worked with Lee Business School entrepreneurship students to develop a business plan for his company. That student team won second place in the Southern Nevada Business Plan Competition last year.

Abel-Santos is working with a company in Boston to move CamSA through pre-clinical trials. He also is writing a Small Business Innovation research grant to the National Institutes of Health that would fund these efforts and is in negotiations with a venture capital firm.