2020 Undergraduate Research Showcase


Combating “The Flesh-Eating Disease,” Increasing Our Understanding of How Two Toxins Destroy Our Cells

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Student Presentation

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Necrotizing fasciitis, also known as “the flesh-eating disease,” is caused by a severe infection from various bacterial species but is most commonly caused by Streptococcus pyogenes, or Group A Strep (GAS). GAS is very common throughout our environment and frequently causes less severe infections, such as strep throat. While more severe infections are rare, likely outcomes such as amputation and death are devastating. Previous research has shown that two toxins produced by GAS, streptolysin O (SLO) and S. pyogenes NAD+ glycohydrolase (SPN), work together during severe infections to deplete our cells of energy. Instead, we hypothesize that each toxin on their own can cause energy depletion. In this study, we treated multiple human cell types with varying concentrations of the two toxins and evaluated their effect on cellular energy. We found that these two toxins depleted skeletal muscle cell energy but not alveolar cell energy, suggesting that toxin translocation is cell type specific. The ultimate goal of this research is to elucidate the role of these toxins in pathology to help design effective treatments and combat this terrible disease, saving limbs and lives.

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