Year of selection 2012
Institution Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
When Agata was eight years old, she spent more than half a year in the hospital, fighting off a bacterial disease that the standard antibiotics couldn’t beat. Thanks to a clinical trial for a new drug, the little girl recovered. Today, Dr. Agata Starosta is determined to tackle the increasingly serious threat to society that is antibiotic resistance. As more and more disease-causing bacteria change to escape our principal weapons against them, they become resistant to the major antibiotics. New strategies are, thus, desperately needed. Dr. Starosta has departed from the usual tactic of disrupting basic bacterial functions (which affects good bacteria as much as bad). Instead, she aims to block the ability of the harmful ones to invade our bodies.
She is particularly interested in one specific factor, called EF-P, that helps build proteins and is necessary for our microscopic opponents to make us sick. In fact, all bacteria have EF-P, but it differs across species. This means that new antibiotics could be designed very precisely to block specifically tuberculosis, meningitis, or another bacterial disease, while leaving the healthy bacteria in our digestive system, for example, untouched. Dr. Starosta’s work so far has revealed the intimate details of EF-P: how it is produced and operates within bacterial cells. This is information that the development of new antibiotics could be built upon, as researchers take aim at these steps underlying bacterial infection. By helping us stay ahead of disease-causing bacteria, Agata’s research could well contribute to shortening hospital stays, decreasing treatment side effects and even curing potentially deadly infections, as she herself was once cured.
The hunt for new antibiotics is in need of new targets. Instead of aiming to neutralize basic bacterial functions, Dr. Agata Starosta hopes to block their virulence, or ability to cause disease. Her lab has discovered a protein that is necessary for many bacteria to become pathogenic. By studying in detail the steps in this process, the structure of this new factor and how it operates with other molecules, her work could provide the basis for new drugs that attack these pathogens from a new angle.
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