Newest University of Regina Canada Research Chair focused on tackling antibiotic resistance

News Release Release Date: December 16, 2020 6:00 a.m.

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.

Most research in this area involves testing isolated microorganisms in labs – a method that 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.

El-Halfawy says he will screen the whole genome and assess interactions between different bacteria under conditions that mimic infections in human hosts. His goal is to uncover clinically-relevant novel targets for antimicrobials.

“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.

“We urgently need new and alternative strategies to successfully combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” said El-Halfawy. He further notes his long-term goal is to discover anti-virulence agents and inhibitors of antibiotic resistance to provide new potential therapeutics for infectious diseases.

“Anti-virulence drugs disarm rather than kill bacterial pathogens, which is what antibiotics are designed to do,” says El-Halfawy. “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.”

He says that the advantage of anti-virulence drugs is that there is a low probability that microbial pathogens will evolve resistance to 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.

Interviews with Dr. El-Halfawy can be arranged via the listed media contact.

About the University of Regina:

The University of Regina—with campuses located on Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 territories, the ancestral lands of the Cree, Saulteaux, Dakota, Lakota and Nakoda nations and the homeland of the Métis—is a comprehensive, mid-sized university that traces its roots back to the creation of Regina College in 1911. Today, more than 16,600 students study within the University's 10 faculties, 25 academic departments/schools, 18 research centres and institutes, and three federated colleges (Campion College, First Nations University of Canada, and Luther College). The University of Regina has an established reputation for excellence and innovative programs that lead to undergraduate, master, and doctoral degrees. The University of Regina was named the Research University of the Year in 2020 (undergraduate category) by Research Infosource.


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