Battling Bacteria – New Solutions to Kidney and Urinary Tract Infections

Maria Hadjifrangiskou, PhD

Of the many issues that can impact CKD patients, recurrent bacterial infections are probably one of the most common. But these infections can also complicate CKD treatment and can progress into a life-threatening condition.

The culprit in most urinary tract and kidney infections is uropathogenic E. coli, and finding new ways to attack these robust bacteria is becoming more crucial as antibiotics become less effective.

“We are at the dawn of the post-antibiotic era, with pathogens essentially becoming resistant to all frontline antibiotics,” said Maria Hadjifrangiskou, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Microbiology within the Department of Pathology, Microbiology & Immunology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “In order to be able to effectively treat infection, we must identify new bacterial targets from which new drugs can be developed.”

Dr. Hadjifrangiskou, 37, is doing just that with the help of a Young Investigator Grant from the National Kidney Foundation.

“Urinary tract infection pathogens are exquisitely versatile,” she said. “One of their most interesting and troublesome features is the ability of the bacteria to form large communities called biofilms which allows the bacteria to protect themselves from environmental stresses such as antibiotics.”

In the project funded by the NKF, Dr. Hadjifrangiskou is looking at an E. coli protein which, when disrupted, can make it impossible for bacteria to form biofilms during infection. This allows the body to effectively clear the bacteria from the bladder and kidneys.

“With the support by the NKF, we further characterized this protein and we are now in the process of working out the function of this protein during the life cycle of the bacteria during infection inside the host,” she said.

If successful, it will allow for new drugs that can target and disrupt the biofilm process. These therapies could replace or augment current antibiotics and facilitate the prevention and/or treatment of kidney-related infections. Results are expected to be published in summer of 2015.

“I always wanted to understand how bacteria “’tick’ in their different environments,” Dr. Hadjifrangiskou said. “Now we’ve unlocked one key that can help us reduce the incidence of persistent and devastating infections, especially in distinct populations, such as people with kidney disease.”