August 27, 2014  

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Southern Miss Professor Receives NIH Grant for Staph Research

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Dr. Mohamed Elasri is conducting research on staph infections in his lab at Southern Miss. (University Communications photo by Van Arnold)

Dr. Mohamed Elasri, associate professor of biological sciences at The University of Southern Mississippi, has been awarded a $439,000 grant by the National Institutes of Health to assist in his research of the staphylococcus aureus human pathogen.

The grant, to be divided over three years, will help Elasri and his colleagues further study ways to prevent staph infections that are associated with implanted medical devices. Elasri notes that the research began two years ago and has already shown some promising results.

“I have been working with staph infections since I joined the Southern Miss faculty in 2002,” said Elasri. “Much of the research focuses on re-emerging infections and the prevalence for antibiotic resistance. In the United States, staph is responsible for more deaths than AIDS.”

Elasri has six graduate students (three doctoral and three master’s candidates) and found undergraduate students working with him on the research.

Staph infections range from a simple boil to antibiotic-resistant infections to flesh-eating infections. The difference between all these is the strength of the infection, how deep it goes, how fast it spreads, and how treatable it is with antibiotics.

In Elasri’s lab, the research group targets biofilms – bacterial communities that form on the surface of tissues or artificial objects (such an implants or medical devices). One special characteristic about biofilm is that the bacteria produce a slime that is secreted to the outside that lives/reproduces within this structure. Elasri notes that studying bacteria in biofilm is technically difficult because it is hard to examine them and manipulate them within the slime layer.

“We have discovered a new gene we named ‘msa’ that plays a key role in biofilm development,” said Elasri. “The ultimate goal is to target this gene to prevent or destroy biofilms in the patient. This would open a new avenue for treatment of staph infections.”