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Research Fellows Directory

Henrietta Venter

Dr Henrietta Venter

Research Fellow


University of Cambridge

Research summary

‘Superbugs’ are costing the NHS billions of pounds a year and antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most pressing health problems. The available antibacterial treatments are becoming less and less effective as the pathogens become increasingly drug resistant and virulent, making the discovery of new treatments and therapies urgent. Work in my laboratory is aimed at finding novel ways of treating infectious disease by characterising membrane proteins that are good drug targets.

One of the main mechanisms by which bacteria develop resistance against antibiotics, is by pumping it out of the bacterial cell and thereby lowering the drug concentration inside the cell to levels insufficient to kill them. Drugs are pumped out by so-called multidrug transporter proteins which reside on the outer surface of the bacterial cell. These transporters can recognise a wide variety of different drugs, which mean that once a pathogen has acquired resistance against the antibiotic used to treat the infection it will subsequently be resistant against most other drugs making it virtually impossible to treat this infection.

Another emerging field of fighting infection is the targeting of bacterial iron acquisition. Iron is vital for the survival of pathogens. Recent studies have also indicated an important role for iron in bacterial virulence and in the bacterial ‘crosstalk’ that result in the formation of highly ordered, extremely drug resistant communities of bacteria (biofilms). Pathogenic bacteria are in a constant tug-of-war with their host for the available iron and have developed high-affinity iron sequestration systems to ‘steal’ iron from their hosts. This makes the proteins involved in iron uptake in pathogens an excellent drug target.

We study the multidrug transporters and iron transport proteins of some notorious hospital acquired superbugs. The results from our study might help us devise new strategies and therapies to combat superbugs.

Grants awarded

Molecular mechanism of the major multidrug efflux pump in P. aeruginosa

Scheme: Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship

Dates: Jan 2007 - Sep 2012

Value: £380,241.75