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Featured Laboratory

William M. Shafer

Microbiology and Immunology and

Senior Research Career Scientist,
Atlanta VA Medical Center

My laboratory is engaged in research dealing with the mechanisms used by the sexually transmitted pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae to develop resistance to antibiotics used by clinicians in the treatment of gonorrhea and antimicrobial compounds produced by the host during infection.  The gonococcus causes over 100 million cases of gonorrhea worldwide each year and many strains causing disease are now resistant to multiple antibiotics.  There is now considerable concern that unless new antibiotics are developed, gonorrhea may become an untreatable disease in the not too distant future.  In the absence of a vaccine, the growing problem of antibiotic resistance expressed by gonococci will have serious consequences for the reproductive and general health for both males and females.  Based on this public health concern, the laboratory is focused on the linkage between the pathogenesis of gonorrhea and resistance of the gonococcus to antimicrobials.  With grant support from the NIH and VA, my group studies how gonococci modify their surface to avoid the antibacterial action of cationic antimicrobial peptides that participate in innate host defense and how they employ a drug efflux pump to export antimicrobials including antibiotics.  We were the first group to show that a bacterial drug efflux pump that recognizes antibiotics can also export host antimicrobials and that this capacity is important for any bacterial pathogen to cause an infection.  A major area of research by my group deals with the molecular regulation of resistance mechanisms because transcriptional control systems can influence the fitness of gonococci during infection.  The long-term goal of the research program is to develop novel antimicrobials that are effective against N. gonorrhoeae, which is an important goal in an era when antibiotic resistance threatens the efficacy of clinical treatment regimens.