Members of CARMiG.
Members of CARMiG.

McGovern Medical School has opened a new research center to address the global health threat posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as superbugs. An introductory ceremony is scheduled for Nov. 29.

Antibiotic-resistant infections are responsible for approximately 50,000 deaths in the United States and Europe each year, according to economist Jim O’Neill, and that number is expected to rise.

The new facility is called the UT Center for Antimicrobial Resistance and Microbial Genomics (CARMiG) and is supported by the UT System Faculty Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention (STARs) Program and McGovern Medical School.

“Antibiotics are a special category of antimicrobial drugs that underpin modern medicine as we know it,” said Barbara E. Murray, M.D., the J. Ralph Meadows Professor in Internal Medicine and director of the Division of Infectious Diseases. She is a past president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

“If antibiotics lose their effectiveness, key medical procedures such as gut surgery, Caesarean section, joint replacements and treatments that depress the immune system, such as chemotherapy for cancer, could become too dangerous to perform,” said Murray, a founding member of CARMiG.

The center is led by Cesar A. Arias, M.D., Ph.D., M.Sc., associate professor of medicine, microbiology and molecular genetics, whose research is focused on the understanding of the mechanisms by which bacteria become resistant to antibiotics and developing new approaches to track and treat superbugs.

“This center allows us to leverage Dr. Arias’ leadership and expertise to catalyze and support additional research by other investigators at UTHealth, throughout the UT System, and at other collaborating institutions,” said Barbara J. Stoll, M.D., dean and H. Wayne Hightower Distinguished Professor in the Medical Sciences at McGovern Medical School.

Internationally recognized for his superbug research, Arias is also the founder and scientific director of the Molecular Genetics and Antimicrobial Resistance Unit at Universidad El Bosque in Bogotá, Colombia. This research unit is a major surveillance center for resistant pathogens in South America.

In addition, he heads the Cluster for Antimicrobial Resistance at the Gulf Coast Consortia (GCC), a seven-member partnership of leading academic biomedical institutions in the Texas Medical Center that focuses on shared training initiatives, collaborative research and core facilities. GCC has identified antimicrobial resistance as a key research strength among member institutions, including UTHealth.

Arias and his UTHealth colleagues are working closely with their counterparts at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston Methodist, the Texas A&M Institute of Biosciences & Technology and The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

The other CARMiG members from UTHealth include: Eric Boerwinkle, Ph.D.; William Dowhan, Ph.D.; Herbert DuPont, M.D.; Danielle Garsin, Ph.D.; Rodrigo Hasbun, M.D., M.P.H.; Theresa M. Koehler, Ph.D.; Michael Lorenz, Ph.D.; David D. McPherson, M.D.; Eugenia Mileykovskaya, Ph.D.; William Miller, M.D.; Steven Norris, Ph.D.; Luis Ostrosky, M.D.; Diana Panesso, Ph.D.;  Sandra Lilliana Rincon Nunez; Kavindra Singh, Ph.D.; Truc T. Tran, PharmD; Jon Tyson, M.D., M.P.H.; Audrey Wanger, Ph.D.; Jiajie Zhang, Ph.D.; and W. Jim Zheng, Ph.D.

Arias, Boerwinkle, Dowhan, DuPont, Garsin, Koehler, Lorenz, Murray, Norris, and Singh also are on the faculty of The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston.