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UH Moment

UH Moment: “Antibiotics Model”

All models are wrong, but some are useful.  The words are from the pioneer statistician George E. Box.  A computational model born in two UH colleges may prove more that useful in the development of antibiotics.  Learn more in this week’s UH Moment.


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Pharmacy professor Vincent Tam and Engineering professor Michael Nikolaou work in opposite sides of campus.  But their collaboration puts them on the same page in the quest to develop a better drug development process.

“Many bacterial have quite a resistance to available antibiotics,” said Tam, associate professor in the department of clinical sciences and administration at the College of Pharmacy’s Texas Medical Center campus.  “In the clinic we are seeing bacteria that are resistant to practically all antibiotics we have in a pharmacy.  So, we are really running into a potential health crisis where we are at risk of returning to a pre-antibiotic era.”

One key in the process of developing drugs is finding the correct dosing regimen that makes the drug effective.  There are thousands of possibilities.  Tam and Nikolaou have developed a computational model that predicts effective dosage treatments, eliminating perhaps years from the drug development process.

“Instead of evaluating 5,000, 10,000 dosing regimens, we can narrow it down to three, five or 10 regimens, dramatically improving our efficiency in moving forward,” he said.

Nikolaou, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, says drug companies are especially eager for this kind of research, particularly in light of the expiration of patents for many blockbuster drugs.

“By using what we’ve developed you can avoid going into dead ends or missing promising leads,” he said.

The next step for their collaboration is working on a model to predict the effectiveness of combinations of drugs benefiting those with immune systems compromised by tuberculosis, HIV and AIDS.

“If our model can improve what the physician can predict in terms of having seen the preliminary results, then our methods will be very useful,” Nikolaou said.

Computational models for new antibiotics are part of what’s happening at the University of Houston.  I’m Marisa Ramirez.

Telling the stories of the University of Houston, this UH Moment is brought to you by KUHF, listener supported radio from the University of Houston.