Kim Lewis, University Distinguished Professor of Biology
Lewis’s original work on persister cells could refocus the direction of antibiotic drug development by demonstrating that bacterial resistance to antibiotics is not the only cause of chronic infections.
He has discovered that persister cells, which survive antibiotic treatment by going dormant, are largely responsible for recalcitrance of those infections. Once an antibiotic leaves a person’s system, those sleeper cells reawaken and begin their work anew.
Lewis and his team have posited that if they could kill these expert survivors, they could cure chronic infections—even those resistant to multiple antibiotics such as methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus or MRSA.
In a groundbreaking study published in the journal Nature, they reported that a drug called ADEP “wakes up” the dormant cells and then initiates a self-destruct mechanism. The approach completely eradicated MRSA cells in an infected mouse.
The team is pursuing compounds similar to ADEP for their potential to treat other infections, as well as disease types involving rogue cells, including cancer.