Four Black Hills State University students and a recent BHSU graduate are working with Dr. John Dixson, assistant professor of chemistry, on two biomedical research projects to address the ever-growing problem of antibiotic resistant microbes and drug resistant malaria. Antibiotic resistance is a major concern in the United States and Europe, while malaria is a major health concern in Asia and sub-Sahara Africa.
BHSU students, Jason Nies, integrative genomics graduate student from Spearfish; Chris White, biology and chemistry major from Rapid City; Gina Geffre, biology major from Pierre; Kevin Ellis, chemistry major from Oglala; BHSU alum Jay Jacobs, integrative genomics graduate from Spearfish, and Dixson are investigating medicinal plants that American Indians used to treat a variety of diseases as sources of new, natural products to treat antibiotic resistant diseases and malaria.
According to Dixson, there are 300 to 500 million new malaria cases reported annually and malaria is estimated to cause nearly 2.7 million deaths worldwide each year. In the sub-Sahara Africa region 90 percent of the malaria deaths are in children that are less than five years old. The need for a new anti-malarial medicine is more critical than ever since the last line of defense in the treatment of malaria, Artemisinin, is beginning to show resistance in Cambodia and Thailand.
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Dr. Dennis Kyle, a world-renowned expert on malaria at the University of South Florida's School of Public Health, assisted the BHSU research team in culturing the malaria-causing parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. The infected red blood cells were treated with 12 extracts from different sages commonly found in western South Dakota. Four extracts were identified with anti-malarial properties and are being purified to identify the molecules responsible for the anti-malarial activity.
The second area of research the team is working on is aimed at the discovery of new chemistry with antibiotic activity, which focuses on three plants: white sage, yucca, and bee balm. The white sage project has identified a new class of chemistry with antibiotic activity against multidrug resistant organisms (MDRO) such as Staphlococcus aureus. Research continues on this compound to further characterize its antibiotic properties, as well as to understand the potency of this compound by determining the minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC). Research on the yucca and bee balm plants is not as advanced; however they both have shown interesting activity against resistant microorganisms. The BHSU research team is currently working to identify the antibiotic activity compounds in those plants.