The National Science Foundation’s Research Initiation Awards (RIA) are grants to junior and mid-level faculty to further research and offer research experience to undergraduate students at HBCUs. Dr. Rasheena Edmondson has received Bennett College’s first RIA grant. She hopes to begin her project, “Antagonistic Bacteriophage and Metal Combination Treatment to Combat the Spread of Antimicrobial Resistance,” this winter.
“Antibiotic resistance is an issue,” said Edmondson, noting that the CDC reported it as “one of the biggest health challenges of our time.” Bacterial resistance is increasing each year and new antibiotics are not being developed fast enough to keep up. Edmondson is exploring a solution.
“As bacteria increase in resistance to one thing, they typically lose resistance to another,” she said. “My research focuses on bacteria’s resistance to bacteriophages.” Bacteriophages, referred to as phages, are natural viruses that specifically target bacteria cells. “Phages are found almost everywhere bacteria is found—in soil, water, humans; one study found them in a toilet bowl!”
Her research method treats a common strain of bacteria, E. coli, with antibiotics, followed by metals that contain antibacterial properties, to increase its resistance. As the E. coli’s resistance to antibiotics and metals increases, the hope is that its resistance to the phages decreases, giving us a way to destroy the bacteria. If successful, this may change the way bacterial infections are treated. “Although E. coli is a relatively harmless strain of bacteria, it shares genetic similarities with many other strains of bacteria. The hope is that the research may be applied to more pathogenic bacterial strains like salmonella, gonorrhea and tuberculosis,” explained Edmondson.
Her focus is also on the impact of the research on Bennett students. “When I talk to students they are interested in careers that help people, they say doctor, nurse or some other practitioner, but none say researcher,” she said. “I want them to know that research and researchers help people, too. This grant gives me the opportunity to include them, allowing them to participate in scientific research.”