BUnano faculty member Ahmad “Mo” Khalil, a College of Engineering assistant professor of biomedical engineering, has been awarded a New Innovator Award under the High-Risk, High-Reward program sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). His proposed project will focus on developing new and rapid techniques for diagnosing antibiotic resistance to more effectively manage and treat gonococcal infections.
“When you treat susceptible bacteria with an antibiotic, they express specific RNAs [ribonucleic acids] that act as biomarkers that tell you the antibiotic will be an effective treatment, while resistant bacteria do not,” says Khalil. “We are going to be looking at harnessing these molecular signatures as the basis of a new form of rapid AST for N. gonorrhoeae.”
Khalil and his team, collaborating with Tufts University and MIT researchers, will engineer synthetic RNAs to act as biosensors that can detect these specific biomarker RNAs and subsequently express a readable output, such as a color change. Next, they will create a tool that will allow clinicians to prepare a patient sample and test it on a single chip that contains RNA sensors for a full panel of antibiotics, with the best treatment options lighting up. This will provide clinicians with rapid information to determine a targeted therapy for a particular strain of gonorrhea, including antibiotic-resistant strains.
In addition to providing networking opportunities for young investigators and initiating access to NIH funding, the New Innovators Award will provide a monetary grant of $1.5 million directly to Khalil’s research project. Recipients of this highly selective award are chosen based on innovative, ambitious project ideas.
“It is a testament to our department, and to the young people we are hiring, that we currently have three active NIH New Innovator Awardees: Xue Han, Wilson Wong, and now Mo Khalil,” says John A. White, an ENG professor and chair of biomedical engineering.
“I’m overwhelmed that I was chosen for this award, and it’s a testament to my entire lab and the hard work that they are doing here at BU,” says Khalil. “It’s also exciting because synthetic biology is such a new field and this award recognizes its potential to solve real-world problems.”