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Researchers at the University of Arizona are studying how to use copper’s antibacterial properties to combat antibiotic resistant pathogens, including those responsible for pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis. 

With a major research university right in our backyard, a strong military presence and innovative companies throughout the metro region, there’s often a plethora of interesting science, medical and technology news to be found in Southern Arizona. Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting recent developments.

 

Copper Cure. The star in the center of the Arizona flag represents our state’s history of copper mining, and now research coming out of the University of Arizona further solidifies the metal’s importance. In a paper recently published in the journal Microbiology Spectrum, UA assistant professor of immunobiology Michael Johnson describes copper’s advanced antibacterial properties. Of course, copper has long been known to be antibacterial. But this latest research shows how a special compound can be bound to copper to kill even antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

The compound N,N-dimethyldithiocarbamate (DMDC) can be chemically bound to copper in order to kill streptococcus

pneumoniae, the bacteria that commonly causes pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis. Pathogens like streptococcus pneumoniae rely on bodily metals as a source of nutrition, and have defense mechanisms in place to avoid metal toxicity. But binding DMDC to metals like copper prevents the pathogens from overcoming the toxicity. 

“As antibiotic resistance has risen, antibiotic development has fallen. As people are trying to find more therapeutics, we can combine what we know about metals and what we know about certain antibiotics, and maybe find some great synergy,” Johnson said in a UA release. “We were looking for compounds that can bind to metal and act as a kind of toxic warhead to kill bacteria. It’s like a Trojan horse mechanism.”

According to UA, researchers observed the effect in laboratory and animal models, but it has yet to be studied in humans. Copper, which is found naturally in vegetables and supplemented in vitamins, is well-tolerated by the human body. The amount of copper consumed is not important to fighting off infections. Rather, the goal is to “deliver the copper to the right place to rid the body of the bacteria.”

“We are far away from a cure-all,” Johnson said. “There is a lot of research that needs to be done, which is why we’re trying to dig more deeply into the mechanisms to better understand how it works. This is a nice marriage between basic science and translational research that we hope has a big impact down the road.”

 

Aerial Awareness. Universal Avionics, an aircraft technology company headquartered in Tucson, recently announced a new suite of sensors for flight crews. Titled “Aperture,” Universal Avionics reports that the family of products can process a variety of video and sensor inputs to deliver real-time content analysis, such as visual positioning, obstacle detection, taxi guidance and traffic awareness. Aperture works as a fusion of video and computer graphics, and is slated for delivery near the end of next year.

“At Universal Avionics, we are continually leveraging the deep pool of technology and culture of innovation of the greater enterprise to advance our systems,” said Universal Avionics CEO Dror Yahav in a press release. “The Aperture suite of capabilities will establish a new benchmark in sensor fusion, AI-powered augmented reality, and ultimately aircraft safety.”

According to Universal Avionics, Aperture is planned to eventually expand to include additional video and sensor channels and low latency video aggregation and manipulation, large recording capability, and real-time data analysis and augmented reality for pilots and mission specialists. This capability will be powered by Universal’s proprietary Artificial Intelligence-based algorithms and is in active development in our research and development laboratories, with first generation boards and algorithms undergoing trials.