By Chantall Van Raay
Ricardo Medina Marrero, a professor of Microbiology from Cuba’s Chemical Bioactive Center at the Central University of Las Villas, is visiting McMaster University as a collaborator in the lab of Gerry Wright, scientific director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research.
Medina, who investigates the bacteria Actinomycetes, which he has isolated from Cuban soils, water and plants, is at McMaster unearthing new agents with antibiotic activity, in an effort to discover and develop antimicrobial drugs from natural sources using traditional and novel approaches.
“McMaster’s IIDR has amazing laboratories,” says Medina. “Unlike other labs around the world, the IIDR offer scientists the chance to do molecular biology and chemistry in a single lab. In many parts of the world they do only molecular biology or they do only chemistry, but they are apart and here you have everything together so for me this is a very unique opportunity.”
Since his collaborative agreement began with McMaster in 2007, Medina has provided Wright’s lab with strains from plants found only in Cuba. “Cuba is the Caribbean hot spot for biodiversity,” he says, “and in our soils and plants exist very interesting strains of Actinomycetes that can produce compounds with antibacterial, antifungal and even anticancer activity.”
With more than 3,000 plants endemic to Cuba, Medina believes a collaborative effort between his University and McMaster offers great potential. “Finding Actinomycetesinside of plants that exist only in Cuba allows us to find novel strains able of producing interesting compounds and at McMaster we are doing some basic assays to test the ability of these antibiotic producing organisms to produce compounds with unique characteristics to fight multidrug resistant bacteria and fungi.”
Medina will work in the Wright lab until January 2012, when he will return to Cuba where he plans to continue his collaborative work with McMaster.
Other IIDR international collaborations:
Medina’s collaborative effort with the IIDR is one of several international efforts that exist within the institute. Examples of other international collaborations include:
- Tim O’Shea, IIDR member and clinical scholar of internal medicine, conducts clinical work and medical education with researchers in Uganda;
- Mark Loeb, IIDR member from the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, studies genetic markers associated with severe cases of Dengue disease throughout South America and Asia;
- IIDR member Tim Gilberger, an associate member of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, works on the molecular mechanisms of pathogenesis of malaria parasite pathogens is centered mostly in Africa, and collaborates with researchers from Germany, India, Singapore, and the US to better understand the disease that claims one million people annually;
- Obiora Ejim, a professor of chemical pathology at Enugu State University of Science and Technology in Nigeria, has collaborated with the IIDR since 2007 when he began providing soil samples for Xiaodong Wang, a technician in Wright’s lab. Ejim has also provided plant samples used to treat malaria and most recently has provided 10 samples taken from human surgical wounds, which are resistant to all available antibiotics, and which he obtained from the Enugu State University of Science and Technology teaching hospital;
- The IIDR’s new Centre for Microbial Chemical Biology also supports international collaborations. Its five labs serve researchers locally, nationally and internationally and provides a focal point for transdisciplinary research, bridging life and physical sciences. In fact, in 2010, the labs supported interactions with Mount Sinai’s Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the University of Edinburgh.