Nanyang Technological University

Making anti-microbial drugs more powerful: Professor Michael Givskov

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His dream is to better the lives of patients with Cystic Fibrosis and other chronic infectious diseases. So when Prof Michael Givskov discovered chemical compounds that can disarm harmful bacteria, he knew he was on to something big: the possibility of new treatments against killer bacteria such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the notorious antibiotics-resistant pathogen that destroys the lungs of Cystic Fibrosis patients.

Prof Givskov, Research Director of the “Public Health” cluster at the Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering (SCELSE), is a pioneer in the development of next-generation anti-microbial drugs that target microbial biofilms – aggregates of bacteria and other microbes that can shield and conceal “bad” bacteria. Back in 2003, the Danish biofilm researcher became internationally renowned for his proof-of-concept study that showed the power of certain chemicals to block bacterial communication in biofilms, turning harmful bacteria into harmless ones.

With NTU’s School of Biological Sciences and SCELSE since 2011, Prof Givskov holds multiple roles as he is also Professor of Biomedical Microbiology at the Department of International Health, Immunology and Microbiology as well as Director of the Costerton Biofilm Center, both at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. His roles in both SCELSE and the Costerton Biofilm Center are central to the extensive scientific collaboration between these two global hubs in biofilm research.

What convinced Prof Givskov to join NTU was the generous research funding available in Singapore, as well as the possibility of working closely with top researchers like Prof Staffan Kjelleberg, the Director of SCELSE, with whom he shares a long-term professional and personal friendship. Other draws were the world-renowned faculty at the centre and its state-of-the-art facilities for biofilm research.

Leading a research expedition to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in 2004 (featured in a documentary by a Danish TV channel), Prof Givskov and his team studied marine organisms such as corals and sponges and found a multitude of chemical compounds with anti-microbial activity against harmful bacteria in biofilms.

Anti-microbial chemical compounds like these could prove instrumental in preventing the spread of infectious diseases and in treating life-threatening diseases that are caused or worsened by pathogens concealed in biofilms.

At SCELSE, Prof Givskov applies his experience in medical microbiology to the study of microbial biofilms. “In my work, I’m collaborating with clinical research that focuses on Cystic Fibrosis patients who often suffer from Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilm infections,” he says. “My dream is to develop chemistry that is able to block bacterial communication and thus the virulence of Pseudomonas aeruginosa to help in controlling this terrible disease.”

To develop such biofilm-controlling drugs, he is also working to test and isolate chemical compounds from herbs and other natural products such as garlic and ginseng, known for their anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Prof Givskov is the named inventor on 22 patent applications and the founder and co-founder of biotech companies QSI-Pharma A/S in Denmark and Biosignals in Australia, respectively. He has published 300 research articles that have been cited 20,000 times with an H-index of 78. In 2004, he received the Statoil award for outstanding research in medical microbiology with innovative industrial application, and in 2014, the Kirsten and Freddy Johansen's Medical Science & Preclinical Research Award for top medical scientists from the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences.

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