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September 14, 2018

Jackson Lab will share $500K grant to study potential skin treatment

Bar Harbor-based Jackson Laboratory and a Connecticut biotech firm have been awarded a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to explore how one form of bacteria may help prevent skin disease caused by another.

Researchers at the lab and at Azitra Inc. will use the grant to study whether compounds derived from a staphylococcus bacterium found on human skin can serve as a natural defense against an organism that can cause skin problems such as impetigo, abscesses and cellulitis.

Such "staph" infections can also lead to more serious health conditions, such as food poisoning, toxic shock syndrome and septicemia. The dangers have grown as many strains of S. aureus have become resistant to traditional antibiotic medications.

The joint research team will investigate the bioactive compounds and will engineer strains of S. epidermidis that might ultimately be used in new antibiotic treatments, Jackson Lab and Azitra said in a news release.

Julia Oh, an assistant professor at Jackson Lab, and Travis Whitfill, a founder of Azitra and is its chief scientific officer, will serve as principal investigators under the grant.

"This research will extend our understanding of how the bacteria … compete and has the potential to generate new tools to combat challenges such as staph infections," said Oh.

Jackson Lab is an independent, nonprofit medical research institute with 2,200 employees. In addition to its Bar Harbor headquarters, it operates facilities in Sacramento, Calif., and Farmington, Conn., where Azitra is also located. Last month, the lab opened a research mouse production facility in Ellsworth that is expected to employ 350 people.

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