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Newest U of R Canada Research Chair focused on tackling antibiotic resistance

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: December 16, 2020 1:00 p.m.

Dr. Omar El-Halfawy is the University of Regina’s newest Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Chemogenomics and Antimicrobial Research
Dr. Omar El-Halfawy is the University of Regina’s newest Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Chemogenomics and Antimicrobial Research Photo: U of R Photography

The World Health Organization has declared antimicrobial resistance one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity. The cost to human health and to national economies and health-care systems is enormous. 

While most research relies on testing isolated microorganisms under standardized culture conditions, this method fails to capture the entire arsenal microbes deploy in the human body during an infection. The research program of the University of Regina’s newest Canada Research Chair (CRC) will address this gap, and more.   

Dr. Omar El-Halfawy, a Tier 2 CRC in Chemogenomics and Antimicrobial Research, aims to uncover the unique severity of antibiotic resistance factors that are present during infection, but that go undetected in traditional lab conditions. 

“By screening the whole genome and assessing the interactions between different bacteria under conditions that mimic infections in human hosts, my goal is to uncover clinically-relevant novel targets for antimicrobials,” says El-Halfawy. “This is important because several microbes can coexist at the infection site. But that’s not how microbes are tested in the lab, where they are tested separately and not under natural conditions. These discrepancies can lead to failure in capturing the entire arsenal pathogens deploy during infection.” 

El-Halfawy’s appointment, along with the appointment of 260 new and renewed Canada Research Chairs nationwide, was announced today by the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. 

The new CRC explains that new and alternative strategies are also urgently needed to successfully combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. 

“My long-term goal is to discover anti-virulence agents and inhibitors of antibiotic resistance providing new potential therapeutics for infectious diseases,” says El-Halfawy. 

He explains that anti-virulence drugs disarm rather than kill bacterial pathogens, which is what antibiotics are designed to do. 

“In large part, overuse and misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals have created pathogens that are now resistant to the drugs which were meant to kill them,” says El-Halfawy. “The advantage of anti-virulence drugs is that there is a low probability that microbial pathogens will evolve to eventually resist these drugs.” 

Dr. Kathleen McNutt, Vice-President (Research) at the University of Regina, welcomes the new Canada Research Chair and says she is excited for the contribution he will make to the University of Regina’s research enterprise and to the field of antibiotic resistance and therapeutics.    

“Dr. El-Halfawy is an outstanding researcher with a growing national and international profile in how microbes cause diseases in humans, especially in the areas of antibiotic resistance and antibiotic drug discovery,” says McNutt. “The work he will do at the University will add to the world-wide effort to tackle this global health threat.” 

El-Halfawy’s CRC received $600,000 in funding over five years from the Canadian government through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. 

In addition to the CRC funding, El-Halfawy received $200,000 in support from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation through their John R. Evans Leadership Fund, with matched funding from Innovation Saskatchewan’s Innovation and Science Fund. These grants will help to purchase instruments and infrastructure essential to the success of El-Halfawy’s research program. 

“This equipment will provide vital functionality and capacity to carry out my proposed research,” says El-Halfawy. 

The Government of Canada created the Canada Research Chair Program in 2000 to make Canada one of the world's top countries in research and development. With this prestigious federal appointment, El-Halfawy joins six other current University of Regina CRCs. 

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