Georgia Magazine - March 2020 - 18
Cassandra Quave (at center) at work in her lab,
with (clockwise from top left) Rahmat Wali, James
Lyles, Darya Raschid Farrokhi and Leah Scott.
thing rare or threatened. All three species can be found on [the
Emory] campus at the Lullwater Preserve."
Dettweiler was able to walk across the street from the lab
and, using Porcher's specifications, collect samples of white oak
bark and galls; tulip poplar leaves, root inner bark and branch
bark; and devil's walking stick leaves.
"I worked on the thesis for three years, first doing literature
research and collections," Dettweiler says.
In the process he learned several surprising things. One
was that more Confederate soldiers died from gangrene and
other infectious diseases than in battle. Another was that amputation was a common treatment for infected wounds.
Dettweiler found that extracts from the study plants have
antimicrobial activity against one or more of three dangerous
species of multi-drug-resistant bacteria linked to wound infections: Acinetobacter baumannii, also known as "Iraqibacter" because it is associated with troops wounded in the Iraq War and
is a general threat in hospitals; Staphylococcus aureus, the most
dangerous of many common staph bacteria as it can spread
from skin infections or medical devices to body organs; and
Klebsiella pneumoniae, a leading cause of hospital infection that
can cause life-threatening pneumonia and septic shock.
"The goal now is to identify effective, safe ingredients
to develop as therapeutics, be it as a [Food and Drug
Administration]-approved drug or maybe a medicated bandage,
rinse or other topical," Quave says.
However, getting a final product to market, even with 21stcentury technology, is long and complicated, she says. For starters, there is much more work to do in the lab.
"The challenge is, can we find things to put into the pipeline for development that will hopefully be picked up-be it
by startup companies, established companies or other entities
Micah Dettweiler studies extracts taken from various
parts of the plants being studied. These extracts were
tested against three species of bacteria commonly seen
in wound infections.
from nonprofits to the military-that might find an interest and
use in this? That's our hope," she says.
She is optimistic her hope will be realized but emphasizes
that work on the Civil War plants at Emory is only one piece of a
very large puzzle.
"We have over 600 species from all over the world we study
in the lab with the goal of trying to move our discoveries from
the laboratory bench into clinical care," she says.
As people wait for whatever medicines the researchers'
work might produce, Quave thinks there are benefits in knowing
the work is under way. That awareness, she says, helps people
understand that plants have something to offer other than mere
beauty and offers them an exciting way to engage with nature.
"When someone walks by a tulip poplar or an oak, maybe
they will think, 'Wow! This is a medicine! This is something
people once used to treat infections,'" she says.
Any future medicines from their research will be developed
in a pharmaceutical lab. Chemists will use complex blueprints
to create a map of the plant compounds that scientists are discovering in the lab.
"Once we have that map, that architecture of the molecules,
then we can work with chemists to produce the molecules on a
larger scale in a chemistry lab or facility," Quave says.
Unfortunately, there is no way to know how long that will
take. Quave realizes it's hard for people who are desperate for
solutions to drug-resistant bacteria to understand that.
"I know what it's like to battle an infection, to deal with
medical problems that seem untreatable," she says. "The only
answer I can give them is that we and other scientists are working on solutions. It takes time and money. That's not the answer
people want. But it is the answer."
Tom Oder is a freelance writer living in Atlanta.
2/12/20 3:42 PM
Georgia Magazine - March 2020
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Georgia Magazine - March 2020
Georgia Magazine - March 2020 - Intro
Georgia Magazine - March 2020 - Cover1
Georgia Magazine - March 2020 - Cover2
Georgia Magazine - March 2020 - Contents
Georgia Magazine - March 2020 - 4
Georgia Magazine - March 2020 - 5
Georgia Magazine - March 2020 - 6
Georgia Magazine - March 2020 - 7
Georgia Magazine - March 2020 - 8
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Georgia Magazine - March 2020 - Cover3
Georgia Magazine - March 2020 - Cover4