January 25, 2008

Case Western Reserve Professor of Medicine to head NIH study group on drug-resistent bacteria

Louis B. Rice

The overuse of antibiotics to fight bacteria and infectious diseases has led to drug-resistant bacteria. To look into this growing problem in hospitals, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has selected Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine Professor Louis B. Rice, M.D., to chair its fledgling Drug Discovery and Mechanisms of Antimicrobial Resistance Study Section.

Rice says that the study section, which was formed in 2005, was created by the NIH to bring attention to the issue of drug-resistant microbes and the creation of new drugs and agents for treatment.

"Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, has been a problem in hospitals for some time now and recently has become a major problem in the community outside the hospital," said Rice, who is also the chief of medical service at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center. "We're finding that the drugs that previously worked have become less effective over time because of overuse. When people get infected with resistant bacteria and we don't have reliably effective drugs to help them, serious illness and even death can result."

He added, "The NIH recognizes this as a serious issue, one with great implications if it continues to worsen, and is looking into better understanding how these resistant bacteria emerge and spread and finding new antibiotics that will have an impact on the treatment of resistant infections.

The study section name is a bit of a misnomer. The group of experts doesn't study research or data, but evaluates grant proposals for scientific merit and importance. A priority score is generated that allows different grants to be ranked. These evaluations are then forwarded to the appropriate NIH board which makes decisions about grant funding.

Rice began his two-year term as chairman in October, but has previously served on other study sections.

"My job is to help NIH identify who could be a valuable resource to sit on the section, chair meetings and make sure that every grant that merits discussion is fairly heard and gets ample time for review," he said.

This group comprises 17 medical experts from across the United States. They meet three times a year and review approximately 100 grants. Each grant is read by primary and secondary reviewers and a discussant before it comes to the whole group and is given a priority score.

"Study sections are very important, especially for academic medical centers and small start-up companies, because this is how the NIH decides how to fund grants," Rice said. "These grants then allow groups to look at problems of resistance and novel ways of identifying new and effective antibiotics."

"We are all beneficiaries of this work, so the large amount of work involved in serving on study sections is an appropriate price to pay to make sure the system functions," he added. "It's important that the section deliberates fairly, and that grants get appropriate and reasonable review. The best grants must get the best scores."

Rice focuses his research work on the mechanisms of antimicrobial resistance. He received his bachelor's degree from Harvard University and his M.D. from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

For more information contact Jason Tirotta, 216.368.6890.

Posted by: Heidi Cool, January 25, 2008 09:13 AM | News Topics: Faculty, HeadlinesMain, Healthcare, Provost Initiatives, Research

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