Bear Cub grants awarded

Washington University has awarded five Bear Cub Fund grants totaling $240,000 to support innovative research that has shown commercial potential.

The fund, made up of endowment income and capital from private sources, is administered through the university’s Office of Technology Management and helps scientists further develop their technology.

The grants were awarded to:

  • David Haslam, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and of molecular microbiology
  • Scott Hultgren, PhD, the Helen L. Stoever Professor of Molecular Microbiology, and Bradley Ford, MD, PhD, a postdoctoral research associate
  • Enrique W. Izaguirre, PhD, assistant professor of radiation oncology and of biomedical engineering
  • Kelle Moley, MD, the James Crane Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Daniel Moran, PhD, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and Matthew MacEwan, MD, PhD, a graduate research assistant in biomedical engineering

Haslam is taking a novel approach to fighting Clostridium difficile infection, a severe intestinal illness that affects about 500,000 Americans annually. Rather than target the bacteria, he is focused on blocking the C. difficile toxins as a means to control the infection. Toxins released by the bacterium are responsible for damage to intestinal cells and cause massive inflammation. Haslam has identified small-molecule inhibitors of C. difficile toxins and will evaluate their effectiveness in animal models.

Hultgren and Ford are developing a new class of antibiotics that specifically target urinary tract infections caused by the bacterium Escherchia coli. Recurrent and drug-resistant infections caused by E. coli are a significant and increasing problem for women. Their research has suggested that new antibiotics called mannosides that target a bacterial component essential to bladder adherence can prevent urinary tract infections caused by E. coli. They now plan to evaluate whether the drugs can cure an existing infection, circumvent antibiotic resistance and prevent recurrence in a mouse model of urinary tract infection.

Izaguirre is developing a device to measure the actual dose of radiation delivered to cancer patients in “real time.” External-beam radiation therapy is used to treat about 50 percent of cancer patients in the United States. This imaging dosimeter would allow clinicians and medical physicists to verify the radiation dose delivered to patients during the course of treatment, enhancing the safety and accuracy of the therapy.

Moley is investigating a new type of intrauterine device for contraception that does not rely on hormones to prevent pregnancy. IUDs currently on the market use forms of the hormones estrogen and progesterone to prevent pregnancy. But the hormones can cause numerous side effects, including breakthrough bleeding, heavy bleeding, headaches, nausea, weight gain and cardiovascular problems. Moley is investigating an IUD that releases an inhibitor of the pentose phosphate pathway. Activating this pathway is necessary for pregnancy to occur. Two non-hormonal inhibitors of the pathway will be evaluated as contraceptives in animal models, and the researchers also plan to identify additional inhibitors of the pathway.

Moran and MacEwan have developed a new type of resorbable, lightweight mesh for use during surgery to repair abdominal hernias. Surgeons routinely place a piece of synthetic mesh over the internal sutures to reinforce the abdominal wall. The mesh developed by Moran and MacEwan is constructed of nanofibers and is expected to promote tissue regeneration and wound healing without promoting excessive scar tissue, like other types of mesh. They will evaluate the mesh in animal models and compare their outcomes to results using commercially available hernia repair meshes.