University of Florida scientists aim to develop new antimicrobials for cows, humans

University of Florida scientists believe they can develop new antimicrobials that will benefit dairy cattle and, eventually, humans by treating bacteria that normally resist antibiotics.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria take a serious toll on cattle and humans.

On the human side, at least 2 million people contract an antibiotic-resistant infection each year in the United States, and at least 23,000 people die, according to a 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC hopes to release updated data this fall.

Then there's the damage to cattle. The uterine disease known as metritis costs U.S. dairy producers $600 million a year, said KC Jeong, an associate professor of animal sciences at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Jeong thinks his new research can help. He plans to use a nearly $460,000 grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to make cattle bacteria less resistant to antibiotics; therefore, more treatable. Humans also may benefit from Jeong's research because many bacteria in our bodies also resist antibiotic treatments.

Jeong said he and his colleagues started their research in August, at the UF Dairy Unit in Hague, Florida, north of Gainesville.

We expect the development of new nano-sized antimicrobials will help improve animal and human health. Furthermore, scientists will be able to use our research as a framework to treat infections in people."

KC Jeong, associate professor of animal sciences, UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Building on his own previous findings and data from other scientists worldwide, Jeong will lead research into whether compounds such as chitosan nanoparticles -- which help carry drugs to infection sites – empower antibiotics to cure cattle infections. Jeong's own research previously showed that chitosan nanoparticles themselves have strong antimicrobial properties.

As part of their experiments, researchers will inject a combination of traditional antibiotics and chitosan nanoparticles directly into infection sites in cattle. They'll also perform tests in the lab and in animals to pinpoint how this combination drug delivery works.

Jeong's research team includes Dr. Klibs Galvao, an associate professor in the UF College of Veterinary Medicine and Zhaohui Tong, a UF/IFAS associate professor in agricultural and biological engineering.

Among other goals, Jeong and his research team hope to effectively treat metritis in dairy cows. Metritis is a disease of the uterine lining that affects 20 percent to 40 percent of postpartum dairy cows, Jeong said.

"By testing a combination of materials, we hope to increase the rate at which we can help cure diseases caused by drug-resistant bacteria. That will help improve animal and human health," Jeong said. "Moreover, the study will become a new framework to develop treatment options for diseases caused by multi-drug resistant pathogens."

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