The National Institutes of Health has awarded Mark T. Hamann, a University of Mississippi pharmacognosy professor, $1.6 million to research potential drugs for treating hepatitis C. Dr. Hamann, principal investigator, stated that recent data suggest that endophytes are actively involved in the biosynthesis of established drugs, and have the ability to produce drug or druglike molecules; therefore, the researchers are focusing on bacteria and fungi that live in plant tissues. He explained that the research will explore various endophytes and develop better ways to culture or grow them. After they grow the bacteria and fungi, the researchers will assess their ability to produce potential drugs for hepatitis C and their response to various forms of stimuli.
Hamann's students are working on individual projects related to the research goal. These include the purification and characterization of new natural products; developing better methods and tools for characterizing complex natural products generated from microbes; and the study of Xylella fastidiosa, a bacteria that can kill grapes, citrus plants, and hardwoods. This bacterium acts as a pathogen but lives inside healthy plants. It generates new metabolites and well-established drugs that were thought to be generated only by soil bacteria. Another student is studying the fruits of several endangered species with the assistance of a U.S. Forest Service plant pathologist. One such species is Lindera melissifolia, a plant commonly known as pondberry. So far, they have found that the plant has some tick- and insect-repellant properties.
In addition to the primary goal of investigating endophytes as a source for new drugs to inhibit hepatitis C, the team is also evaluating the bacterial extracts against a broad group of targets associated with infectious diseases, cancer, and neurodegeneration.
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