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New partnership, NIH grant push research forward

Image with caption: Shelby Kutty, M.D., Ph.D.

Shelby Kutty, M.D., Ph.D.

Shelby Kutty, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pediatric cardiology, is seeing his translational research move forward thanks to a partnership with a biotechnology company and the acquisition of a key National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant.

For years, investigators at UNMC's Center for Staphylococcal Research (CSR) have studied biofilm -- a structured community of bacteria recalcitrant to antibiotics, and a leading cause of infections like infective endocarditis (infection of the inner lining and valves of the heart).

So CSR's Ken Bayles, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for basic research, was excited when approached by Dr. Kutty and his collaborator, Tom Porter, M.D. Drs. Kutty and Porter, professor and Hubbard Chair of cardiology, had an idea for using ultrasound mediated microbubbles along with antibiotic to knock staph bacteria biofilm away from heart valves.

The ultrasound and microbubbles could break up the plaque of platelets, fibrin and bacteria known as vegetation. The biofilm would then be susceptible to antibiotics, avoiding the complication of invasive surgery.

Dr. Kutty was recently informed that the project, "Fibrin Targeted Microbubbles and Ultrasound for Treatment of Endocarditis," has been funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Dr. Kutty is co-principal investigator with Evan Unger, M.D., co-founder of NuvOx Pharma. Dr. Unger also is professor of radiology at University of Arizona Health Sciences.

NuvOx will develop microbubbles specifically designed to target fibrin. UNMC will use ultrasound to break the bubbles, and with them, the vegetation, while co-administering an antibiotic and also using ultrasound for live imaging purposes.

"We are looking at the heart valve while we are treating it," Dr. Kutty said. "It is a targeted, focused treatment." And preliminary study has the investigators feeling optimistic.

"If successful, this has the potential to save lives and improve outcomes," said Dr. Porter, a collaborator on the project.

"It might evolve or emerge as a therapy for treating endocarditis in very sick patients where we need to clear the clog very fast," Dr. Kutty said.

The team is working with animal models. If the project sees continued success, Dr. Kutty hopes it will be ready for human clinical trials in a few years. Dr. Bayles is a collaborator on the project.

Drs. Kutty and Porter also continue to research using microbubbles noninvasively to break up blood clots, in order to prevent heart attack and heart damage, and to ward off stroke.

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