Concordia University Professor awarded grant to study molecular mechanisms of virulence factor protein

Concordia University is pleased to announce that Dr. Peter D. Pawelek, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry was awarded a grant from the Thalassemia Foundation of Canada to study molecular mechanisms of a virulence factor protein from an opportunistic pathogen that affects thalassemia patients.

Thalassemia is a genetic blood disease that is particularly prevalent in Mediterranean, Arabic, and Asian populations. People afflicted with thalassemia have deficient hemoglobin, which results in iron overload in the blood. One of the most common ways to treat thalassemia is to administer molecules known as iron chelators that help to reduce iron levels in blood serum.

Dr. Peter Pawelek's lab in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry studies various aspects of bacterial iron uptake. He is particularly interested in how bacteria employ proteins to obtain iron from their environment. One of the limiting factors for bacterial survival and growth is to obtain enough bioavailable iron from the environment. Because thalassemia patients have elevated levels of iron in their blood, they are particularly susceptible to pathogenic bacteria that can thrive on this iron in order to survive and proliferate.

Dr. Pawelek has just received a two-year grant from the Thalassemia Foundation of Canada to study a receptor protein found on the surface of a particularly lethal bacterial pathogen that afflicts thalassemia patients. This protein can take up the thalassemia drug Desferal when chelated to iron. By 'hijacking' iron-bound Desferal, the pathogen can rapidly proliferate in patients being treated with this drug. Dr. Pawelek's group will isolate the receptor and solve its three-dimensional structure in order to understand how it binds Desferal.

He hopes that this research will eventually lead to the development of new antibiotic compounds that could prevent this hijacking process, providing an effective way to combat opportunistic infections of thalassemia patients taking the drug.

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