Understanding how cationic antimicrobial peptides and lipopeptides function in order to design better antibiotics

With the ever-increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistance, it has become critical for scientists to develop alternatives to antibacterial agents and offer long term sustainable health care solutions. Bacterial resistance to common antibiotics has a dramatic impact on hospital and community health care, affecting entire hospital wards and communities. This creates significant – and largely avoidable – pressure on current health care budgets. Two types of microbe-fighting peptides are generating much interest as potential alternatives to current antibiotics: cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAPs) and anionic lipopeptides (ALs). Both types of peptides are commonly found in nature and have remained effective, displaying little to no antibiotic resistance effects. Both are believed to act by targeting and perturbing the bacterial membrane, which eventually leads to cell death – a process that is strikingly different from current antibiotics. Dr. Suzana Straus aims to find novel alternatives to current antibiotics by investigating how promising candidates from the CAP and AL peptide families function and by designing more potent versions derived from these candidates. Her work is focused on three peptides: two CAPs from amphibians and one AL called daptomycin, which is known to be effective against particular complicated skin infections. Straus is researching the structural and functional properties of these membrane-associated peptides and proteins, which is crucial in the design and development of new and effective medicines. Ultimately, her work will provide insight into which factors should be considered in the design and development of a new generation of antibiotics.