June 18, 2017

Research Roundup: Dengue diagnostics, unlocking protein structures, and an antibiotic found in soil

Program Assistant
PATH/Lesley Reed

In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

Diagnostic science can be complex and tedious (PATH/Patrick McKern)

Brazilian researchers have created a low-cost biosensor product capable of detecting proteins in the membranes of cells infected with dengue, providing a diagnosis in just a few minutes. During its initial testing process, the tool was able to confirm the presence of dengue in all contaminated blood samples tested. While this is a positive start, more testing needs to be done to ensure the tool is continuously reliable in diagnosing dengue and explore options to reduce the price further. If the device proves to be both inexpensive and reliable down the road, it could be a revolutionary tool for diagnosing dengue around the world.

In a research lab in Seattle, Washington, Gary Buchko and his team are studying the foundation of the world’s most infectious diseases: proteins. The team is responsible for some of the most groundbreaking work in this niche area of science and have recently identified their 1,000th protein structure responsible for infectious diseases in humans. With the size of a protein being one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair, the work they do is tedious and complex and could take months or years to unlock one single protein structure. But it’s revealing critical information to help design molecules to disrupt or disable the process of these pathogens, paving the way for new vaccines, treatments, and other solutions

A compound in Italian soil has been found to have impressive antibiotic properties. The compound, pseudouridimycin (PUM), mimics an RNA building block and is capable of blocking specific polymerase, or enzymes capable of transcribing DNA into RNA. This is important because it can block bacterial polymerase–bacterial enzymes that can make you sick–but it leaves human polymerase intact, allowing PUM to be a highly specific antibiotic tool. Because of this ability as well as the unique structure of the compound, PUM is ten times less likely to trigger a resistance. While this compound has only been tested on animals, results have been promising, and scientists are hoping to advance to human trials within the next three years.