TTUHSC wound study breaks through the bacteria bunker

Dr. Kendra Rumbaugh on fighting wounds that don't heal

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Can you imagine a wound that doesn’t heal for months, even years?

Every 20 seconds globally, someone has an amputation because of a diabetic foot ulcer that has been infected and can not be healed. That’s according to Dr. Kendra Rumbaugh, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Surgery at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center.

She says, “We’re coming to understand that one of the reasons a wound will stall or stop healing is because it’s infected with bacteria. And my lab is studying how they can better treat that bacteria and control the infection.”

Dr. Rumbaugh explains that for many years, scientists have been studying bacteria in the wrong way, using antibiotics to see what kills bacteria when it is contained in a liquid solution.

So if it worked in the lab, why didn’t it work in the body?

She says scientists know now that bacteria will find something to stick to, then build a certain film over itself to protect it much like a bunker.

She says “In 80% of all infections, not just wounds but sinus infections, catheter related infections, pneumonia, they [bacteria] sort of enclose themselves in a bunker so it makes antibiotics harder to get to them.”

But now, Dr. Rumbaugh’s team is studying how to break through that bunker to be more effective in killing the bacteria.

Many researchers are studying this issue. But Dr. Rumbaugh says she thinks they’re on the breach of discovering something special at the Texas Tech School of Medicine. ”There are a few different strategies that have been used to try to get the bacteria out of the bunker to better kill them, but we’re using some enzymes that no one has thought to use yet.”

Her goal? “So hopefully, we can convince some big pharmaceutical company someday that they need to invest money in this strategy to help antibiotics work better and clear infections better.”

Already, she says they have a provisional patent in the works and they are working with the Office of Research Commercialization to move her findings from the lab to a drug company so that ultimately, the patient will benefit.

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