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Fighting the Resistance

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Fighting the Resistance
Dr Xuechen Li (second from left in the first row) and his teixobactin project team at the Department of Chemistry, including three PhD students and four undergraduate students.

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As more and more infections grow resistant to existing antibiotics, an HKU team led by Dr Xuechen Li, Department of Chemistry, is at the forefront of developing the next generation of antibiotics.

The introduction of penicillin in the 1940s started the era of antibiotics and marked a great advance in therapeutic medicine. Antibiotics are compounds produced by bacteria and fungi which are capable of killing, or inhibiting, competing microbial species. After its discovery by Alexander Fleming in 1929 and its development into a widely available medicine by the 1940s, penicillin as the first antibiotic was able to take on previously life-threatening infections such as streptococcus, meningococcus and the diphtheria bacillus.

Due to rapid evolution, once an antibiotic enters widespread human use, its effectiveness becomes limited and bacterial resistance to it is just a matter of time. This has led to further problems such as overuse of antibiotics. In the fight against bacterial resistance, new antibacterial drugs need to be developed all the time.

Generally there are two approaches for the development of antibacterial drugs. One, the discovery from nature of new types of antibiotics, such as streptomycin, cephalosporin, erythromycin, tetracycline, vancomycin, and daptomycin; and two, modifications on the structure of ineffective antibiotics to reactivate them, for example, nafcillin, oxacillin, ampicillin, amoxicillin, carbenicillin, ticarcillin and piperacillin, all of which are derivatives of penicillin and developed from its structural modifications.

Dr Xuechen Li

"I feel so strongly that it is up to us in academia – in non-profit-driven institutions – to take responsibility in conducting antibacterial research. We chemists must play our part."

Dr Xuechen Li

The full version of this article was originally published in Bulletin. Please click here to view this HKU publication.

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