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WMU researchers search for the key to antibiotic resistance

student wearing t-shirt, plastic gloves and mask holds up beaker containing fluorescent liquid
Courtesy of Koestler Lab
WMU undergraduate Syed Daniyal works in the Koestler Lab.

Biologists hope their research into Shigella bacteria will apply to other harmful pathogens.

Concerns about antibiotic resistance in a group of dangerous bacteria have inspired research at Western Michigan University.

Biology Professor Ben Koestler and his team are studying Shigella, which causes dysentery. The researchers want to know how the bacteria interacts with our own cells in order to multiply.

“The discoveries that we make in Shigella may pertain to other bacterial pathogens as well,” Koestler said.

The team hopes its findings may lead to a more effective way to treat Shigella infections, which cause more than 600,000 deaths worldwide every year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Koestler says Shigella is one of several bacteria showing increasing resistance to antibiotics.

This concerns health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

“The CDC and the WHO are increasing the alarm bells to say about the urgency, that we need to research this pathogen because of this rise in antibiotic resistance,” Koestler explained.   
The researchers at Western are looking for a way to disrupt this resistance. They say they’re hopeful their findings will help lead to new drugs. Those would in turn supplement the antibiotics, making them more effective.

The Koestler Lab received $75,000 from the National Institutes of Health for its work on Shigella. The two-year grant ends in May, but Koestler says he expects his research to continue.  

“It seemed like a really interesting system to work with,” said Koestler, “and it helps us get at this really big public health problem that’s an issue across the globe.”