Abel-Santos Team Receives $3.25 Million R01 Grant from NIH

Dec. 11, 2014

UNLV chemistry professor Ernesto Abel-Santos and his team have received a five-year, $3.25 million award from the National Institutes of Health to develop a more potent and stable drug to prevent Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile.

The grant is an R01, or Research Project Grant, which is the original and historically oldest grant mechanism used by NIH. It is considered one of the NIH’s highly competitive awards.

The grant will enable Abel-Santos and his team to continue their innovative research on C. difficile, a bacterium that can cause significant illness, including severe abdominal pain and uncontrollable diarrhea. In healthy humans, beneficial bacteria in the intestines keep C. difficile spores from germinating and producing toxins. However, in hospitalized patients taking broad-spectrum antibiotics, the beneficial bacteria are killed, allowing C. difficile to proliferate and produce serious, sometimes fatal, illness.

The U.S. has approximately 500,000 cases of C. Difficile infection (CDI) annually at a cost of more than $3.2 billion; approximately 20,000 people succumb to CDI annually.

For the last eight years, the Abel-Santos laboratory at UNLV has been testing a simple hypothesis: Since C. difficile spores do not cause disease until they transform into toxin-producing bacteria, blocking spore germination will prevent infections. Hence, rather than trying to cure CDI, the team is working to prevent the infection from occurring.

Toward this goal, the Abel-Santos laboratory has been developing synthetic compounds (anti-germinants) to take the role of the bacterial defenses in the intestines. In three recent scientific papers, the Abel-Santos laboratory demonstrated that anti-germinants can inhibit C. difficile spore germination and, as a result, prevent CDI in animals.

The grant will enable the team to continue testing and refining the anti-germinants. 

Abel-Santos and his UNLV team are collaborating on the grant with researchers from the following institutions: Nevada State College, Wayne State University, and the University of Nottingham.