Michael L. Chikindas, Ph. D.

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Nature-Derived Antimicrobials and Probiotics:
Integrative Approach in Combating Antibiotic Resistance

In the recent years, the number of antibiotic- resistant bacteria has escalated. Professor Michael Chikindas and his research team at the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences are developing alternative therapies that could reduce the use of antibiotics. This is in line with the strategy of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine (NIH).

Dr. Chikindas’ team is focusing on natural antimicrobial proteins that safely target specific pathogenic microorganisms in both humans and animals, without causing any harm to the healthy lactobacilli. This relatively new avenue of research largely involves probiotics (health-promoting bacteria) and the natural antimicrobial proteins they produce (bacteriocins).

Dr. Chikindas (third from left) and his research team are developing alternative therapies that could reduce the use of antibiotics.

The Health Promoting Naturals Laboratory team has identified several antimicrobial proteins that are capable of killing Gardnerella vaginalis, the microbe largely responsible for bacterial vaginosis (BV), which is a specific infection in women. BV is a serious condition that can lead to complications with pregnancy, the development of pelvic inflammatory diseases, and an elevated risk of contracting HIV infection. In cases of HIV infection, BV directly accelerates the progression of the disease. Currently, only 75 percent of the BV cases are effectively treated with antibiotics. Of the women treated for BV, about 30 percent return with pathogens that acquired antibiotic resistance.

Dr. Chikindas' pioneering research is demonstrating the ability of these proteins to prevent the growth ofG. vaginalis, while leaving the healthy vaginal microbiota and vaginal tissues unharmed. Preliminary data on one of the proteins has also suggested it has potent spermicidal activity and antiviral activity against herpes simplex viruses (including drug-resistant forms). This is strengthening the natural antimicrobial’s position as a quality addition to personal care and/or medicinal applications. Further research investigated the synergistic effect of natural bacteria-killing protein in combination with several conventional antibiotics and a variety of natural antimicrobial substances to boost their overall effectiveness.  In addition, intelligently-designed formulations were tested and identified as capable of controlled delivery of the selected antimicrobials.

Some of the studied health-promoting bacteria and the substances they produce are capable of killing oral pathogens such as Streptococcus mutans (one of the major caries-causing agents) and Porphyromonas gingivalis. According to CDC, about 50% of the U.S. population is suffering from gingivitis. These putative probiotics and nature-derived antimicrobials are candidates for oral care formulations where they can replace triclosan and other chemicals.

Dr. Chikindas’ work on probiotics is largely focused at two directions: medicinal probiotics and health-promoting bacteria for agriculture. His collaboration with Dr. Quadro is aimed at design of novel human-friendly bacteria capable of production of β-carotene (vitamin A precursor). These microorganisms will help to alleviate vitamin A deficiency, a condition which kills millions of children every year. Collaboration with research groups from K. Bendukidze Agricultural University (Tbilisi, Georgia) and from Rostov (Russia) is aimed at novel biotechnological production of spore forming probiotics for replacement of antibiotics in poultry, aquacultures and animals of agricultural importance.