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Pieces of Eight


Antibacterial Study Funded

ECU professor Rickey Hicks, chair of the chemistry department in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Science, was awarded more than $400,000 for antibacterial research.

Hicks is collaborating with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Springs, Md., to research peptides that could be used to treat infections resulting from bacterial, biological warfare agents.

The research is funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Hick began the research while serving as chief of the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at Walter Reed. When he joined ECU in 2006, he was able to continue his study.

“I am very excited and happy to be able to translate this research to ECU and to take full advantage of the synergic effect of combining the research talents and strengths of WRAIR and ECU,” Hicks said. “WRAIR is a world leader in infectious disease research and drug development. Combined with ECU’s program in pharmaceutical chemistry, the probability for a successful outcome is very high.”

The peptides are designed to kill bacterial cells by punching holes in the cells’ membranes, and Hicks intends to show that the peptides protect against drug resistant strains of both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria.

If the peptides are effective in protecting healthy cells, and in curing infected cells, the compounds will be selected for clinical development. Hicks and his collaborators would then seek to extend the funding for their project for an additional three years.

Current research at the WRAIR shows how healthy cells in mice infected with particular bacteria are being protected, preventing bacteria from taking hold.

Hicks and David Klapper, professor at the UNC School of Medicine, are synthesizing the peptides being used in the project. Hicks and two fellow researchers at the WRAIR, Jayendra B. Bhonsle and Divakaramenon Venugopal, developed the peptides.

“It is exciting to be a part of this ‘cutting-edge’ research here in eastern North Carolina, which has the potential to protect both the war fighter and the general civilian populations from drug resistant bacterial infections,” Hicks said. “This research clearly illustrates the dramatic benefits of military bio-medical research to the general population.”

The WRAIR will receive funding of $295,326, bringing total support of the project to $718,288.

This page originally appeared in the Aug. 1, 2008 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at