Duquesne Researcher Attempting to Develop Compounds to Fight Fatal Infections

Mar 14, 2012

All too often a patient who has battled an aggressive sickness ends up succumbing to a simple, but ultimately fatal, infection.

"These are patients … who are undergoing chemotherapy, whose immune systems get compromised," said Dr. Aleem Gangjee of Duquesne University, "patients who are transplant recipients — their immune system is also compromised — and of course for patients who are afflicted with HIV/AIDS."

Gangjee is a medicinal chemist who, along with a team of researchers, is developing compounds that will tackle the stubborn fugnal infection.

"We have preliminary studies that indicate that we have compounds, highly specialized compounds, which we synthesize at Duquesne University, which are highly effective and selective against a pathogen called pneumocystis jirovecii, which causes pneumonia in patients with immune-compromised systems," said Gangjee.

But there is a challenge. That particular pathogen can only grow in human lungs, so it's been impossible to grow it in a petri dish to test compounds. When tested in mice or rats, the pathogen changes from its human form. Gangjee and collaborators, however, have been able to grow it unaltered in insects, then transfer it to a mouse or rat for testing, so there is hope that ultimately an effective treatment can be developed.

This, said Gangjee, is important because the fungal infection is stubborn and there are many drug-resistant strains appearing all over the world. The good news, he added, is that the compounds being developed should be able to tackle those now-resistant pathogens.

The ultimate goal of the $1.9 million five-year grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, an arm of the National Institutes of Health, is to improve medications for patients with compromised immune systems.

"This will involve the synthesis of approximately 18 new entities," said Gangjee, "and these drugs will be used against these particular pathogens to see if we can discover drugs that are better than the ones we already have in hand."