Institute researchers receive $19K grant

Published 6:04 pm Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Jarrod French, PhD, Associate Professor at The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota, is the recipient of a two-year, $19,000 grant from the Venn Foundation that will support a project aimed at developing a new class of broadly applicable, immune-enhancing antimicrobial treatments.

In progressing with this project, French and lab researcher Dr. Faisal Aziz have also recently published a paper in Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, which identifies and characterizes a set of compounds that block the function of a protein that suppresses the immune system — a discovery that could improve treatments for infectious diseases and save countless lives.

Over five million people worldwide die each year from infectious diseases with an estimated global economic impact of over $8 trillion. Bacteria and other microbes are also becoming increasingly resistant to antimicrobial drugs. Many of these infections are hospital-acquired and often affect people whose immune systems are weakened.

Email newsletter signup

In collaboration with Dr. Nick Carpino at Stony Brook University, the French lab studies a protein known as STS that serves as an immune response repressor, essentially “turning off” immune system responses when activated, similar to the way brakes on a car help it stop.

The French lab is working to develop small molecule therapeutics (drugs) that can inactivate this protein in order to fight infection.

“We recently identified some small molecules that can inhibit the protein target of interest,” French said. “This grant will allow us to scale up the production of these molecules for additional studies and enable us to create variants of these compounds that have more favorable properties.

“If successful, this work is expected to lead to the development of a new class of immune-enhancing antimicrobial treatment,” he continued. “Because this approach enhances the immune system and does not specifically target the microbe, it has the potential to be effective against a wide range of bacterial and fungal pathogens.”

The French lab recently published a paper entitled “Rebamipide and Derivatives are Potent, Selective Inhibitors of Histidine Phosphatase Activity of the Suppressor of T Cell Receptor Signaling Proteins” in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

In this study, researchers used high-throughput screening, a method commonly used in drug discovery for rapid testing of a large amount of samples, and were able to identify compounds (called hits) that inhibit STS. X-ray crystallography allowed them an up-close look at how the STS protein interacted with the compounds.

A particular compound known as rebamipide was found to effectively inhibit STS activity. Rebamipide is already used to treat ulcers and gastritis in several Asian countries.

“Rebamipide is a drug with a good safety profile and many years of history of safe use,” French said. “This discovery could help to accelerate the development of safe variants that could be used as antimicrobial treatments.”