Clarkson Professor He Dong and her research team are developing a nanotechnology-based design strategy for a safe and highly effective delivery of antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) to treat a variety of bacterial infections.

The discovery of AMPs has opened an era of tremendous promise and potential opportunity for overcoming bacterial resistance to commonly used antibiotics.

However, despite their promise as an alternative to antibiotics, conventional AMPs suffer from structural instability and substantial toxicity to cells (cytotoxicity). These challenges have dramatically hampered the development, commercialization and application of AMPs.

Assistant Professor of Chemistry & Biomolecular science He Dong is one of two Clarkson faculty to receive a 2017 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award , the National Science Foundation’s highest award for research and teaching excellence for junior faculty. The award will support Dong’s ongoing work on AMPs.

The Dong group has been working to engineer new, stable peptides that will kill bacteria without harming healthy human cells.

The researchers have developed a highly effective strategy that meets this condition by assembling AMPs in a nanoparticle form, termed as Self-Assembling Antimicrobial Nanofibers (SAANs).

“Unlike traditional AMPs that have severe cytotoxicity, when AMPs are organized in a nanoparticle, they become ‘smart’ and have the ability to selectively kill the bacterial cells while leaving the healthy human cells unaffected,” says Dong.

Dong believes the superior antimicrobial activity and cell selectivity is largely attributed to the nanoscale effect which has rarely been studied in the past.

Earlier this year, she received a prestigious CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, which will support her research team’s efforts to validate and refine the SAAN platform.

The knowledge developed from these research activities will provide a powerful new glossary of fundamental design principles for the synthesis and deployment of AMPs. It will also have a transformative impact on the multi-billion-dollar research focused on conventional antibiotics and AMPs by re-engineering and "re-formatting" thousands of available AMPs in the peptide databank to form SAANs, thereby greatly boosting their therapeutic potential.

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