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Yasu Morita, Ph.D.

Research Awards Nationwide Recipient (2016-2017)

University of Massachusetts Amherst
Investigating Glycolipids in Developing New Treatments for Tuberculosis
Biomedical Research Grant
Funded by the American Lung Association of the Northeast

Developing new tuberculosis (TB) drugs is particularly challenging because the bacteria that cause the disease have impermeable cell walls that block antibiotics. These cell walls contain a unique set of compounds categorized as glycolipids. Having shown that changing the structure of these glycolipids increases the antibiotic sensitivity of TB bacteria, our goal is to identify a protein involved in the production of glycolipids that can be targeted by new drugs. We have identified a novel protein that is involved in this process. We will investigate whether this protein is essential for the growth of TB bacteria and if it is located within the surface of the cell wall, making it an ideal drug target.

Update: In the past year, we have revealed that a previously uncharacterized protein in tuberculosis bacteria plays a critical role in the production of key glycolipids, which are important constituents of the highly impermeable cell surface structure of the TB bacterium. By deleting the gene that gives instructions to this protein, we have produced a mutant bacterium that produces defective glycolipids, and the mutant is now more sensitive to antibiotics. We also provided evidence that this protein is located in the cell surface of the bacterium, making this protein an ideal target of drug treatment.

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