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Dr. Eric Brown Awarded Prestigious Grant to Unravel Bacterial Survival Strategies

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Dr. Eric Brown

McMaster University’s Dr. Eric Brown was recently awarded a CIHR Foundation Scheme Grant – a new and highly competitive funding initiative supported by the federal agency.

This year marks the first year of the Foundation Scheme, which saw a total of 150 grants awarded to researchers from across Canada – all of whom, according to the CIHR, boast an obvious track record of excellence and impact in their field of study.

Brown, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences and a member of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research, received a seven-year grant with a full term value of approximately $2.8 million.

“This is an amazing vote confidence,” Brown says, referring to the duration and value of the grant. “It will allow us to do something interesting, perhaps a bit more risky.”

The discovery and development of novel antibacterial therapeutics has been a major preoccupation of Brown’s research since arriving at McMaster in 1998. And with this grant, he and his team are poised to continue investigating the complex biology that underlies bacterial survival strategies.

Currently, the Brown Lab is engaged in three programs or areas of study. The first of which involves the multi-layered effects of antibiotic drug-target interactions, particularly enigmatic targets like Wall teichoic acid. Considered an integral component of the cell wall of Gram-positive bacteria, Wall teichoic acid has become a key target in antibiotic research.

“We’ve spent 17 years studying this target, learning things that we had no idea were going to be true,” Brown says. “Maybe the most interesting of which is if you take away Wall teichoic acid from methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), it becomes sensitive to methicillin. This was totally unexpected.”

The Lab’s second area of study focuses on the development of tools – or platforms – that enhance existing lab methodologies. For example, Brown and his team have developed a nutrient limitation platform to test hypotheses concerning bacterium growth under different conditions.

“We think it’s considerably tougher for a bacterium to infect in the host,” Brown explains. “So we had this idea that we would, instead, look for growth inhibition on nutrient-restrictive media, so under nutrient stress, which we think is a much better proxy for what’s going on in the host.”

Finally, this grant will allow Brown and his team to take advantage of the advanced High Throughput Screening Lab within McMaster’s Centre for Microbial Chemical Biology (CMCB). There they intend to run large-scale screening initiatives, which will assist them in growing McMaster’s already expansive library of compounds.

“We’ve proven these things in pilot scale and the next thing we want to do is go industrial scale,” Brown says. “Our ambitions are for one million compounds.”