César de la Fuente
2016, Spain
His peptides could prevent deaths caused by multiresistant bacterial infections
Medicine

Since penicillin was discovered in 1897, antibiotics have saved countless lives from infectious diseases. However, there are more and more bacteria which are evolving and becoming resistant to the current treatments. It is estimated that by 2050, multiresistant bacteria will claim the lives of 10 million people each year. In order to avoid this terrible future, César de la Fuente is investigating alternative therapies to traditional antibiotics. Specifically, he has focused on certain peptides (amino acids sequences which are shorter than a protein) capable of creating pores within the bacterial wall and interfering in their vital processes. Thanks to his advances, De la Fuente has been recognized as one of MIT Technology Review, Spanish Edition's Innovators Under 35 Spain 2016.  

His peptides present several advantages in comparison with traditional antibiotics. On one hand, "with very low dosages they can kill multiresistant bacteria," De la Fuente explains. "They also serve to enhance the effect of other antibiotics when used in combination, even when the bacterium has developed a resistance to them," he adds. "Also, by introducing amino acids with a similar chemical structure to natural ones, but which are not used by living things to create proteins, it prevents the bacteria from degrading them, which boosts its effectiveness," the young researcher concludes. 

De la Fuente´s research is still in the preclinical phase, which means that it may be a while before it can be used to save human lives. To date, their effectiveness has been demonstrated in animals. In parallel, De la Fuente is also investigating how to design peptides with more specific action mechanisms than the current peptides, which have a broad spectrum. His goal is to produce a silver bullet capable of differentiating between the membranes of bacterial pathogens from the membranes of the human intestinal flora (microbiata). 

"The technology developed is innovative and original and has come at exactly the right time," according to the president of Inserm Transfert Initiative and jury member for the Innovators Under 25 Spain 2016 awards, Cécile Tharaud. In her opinion, the impact of De la Fuente´s research is very high.