Bacterial Pathogenesis Research

Dr Makrina Totsika is examining bacterial pathogenesis

The Bacterial Pathogenesis group, led by Associate Professor Makrina Totsika, examines bacterial virulence, that is, how bacteria cause disease. The group aims to identify and test novel antimicrobial agents – potential alternatives to antibiotics.

The group works in four main areas:

  1. Identify and examine genetic, functional and structural features found exclusively on pathogenic bacteria
  2. Understand host-pathogen interactions
  3. Evaluate which of these pathogenic bacteria features could be targets for anti-microbial therapeutics
  4. Test anti-microbial therapeutics in specialist laboratories using robust cell and animal models

Associate Professor Totsika has developed her expertise in these areas through her experience examining urinary tract infections caused by multi-drug resistant pathogens.

Address one of the biggest threats to global health

The group is seeking a solution for the pressing problem of antibiotic resistant pathogens. This has been identified by the World Health Organisation as one of the “biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.”

Target pathogens not commensal microflora

The Bacterial Pathogenesis group focuses on host-pathogen interactions, specifically pathogenic bacterial adherence using adhesins – appendages that enable bacteria to adhere to other cells or a body’s surface. The group is developing methods to disrupt the adhesins, which are a good target because they rarely occur on commensal microflora. Commensal microflora are the micro-organisms found on body surfaces that are harmless or mutually beneficial to the host. Commensal microflora contribute to human health, so limiting disruption is an important consideration when developing new therapeutics.

Disarm; don’t kill

Targeting the virulence factors of bacteria without killing them will provide an alternative to antibiotics to prevent and halt bacterial infections. This in turn will prevent the continued emergence of antibiotic resistant pathogens.

Develop cell and animal models of infection

Associate Professor Makrina Totsika has established cell and animal models to test antimicrobial drug targets.

These provide proof-of-concept models for novel anti-adhesion therapeutics have potential to prevent and halt bacterial infection.