CÉSAR DE LA FUENTE
Selected as “La Caixa” Fellow, awarded by the King and Queen of Spain, 2012
Harvard Medical School Ruth & William A. Silen Award for Microbiology, Immunology, Genetics or Molecular Biology, 2016
Recipient of Ramón Areces Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2015
University of British Columbia PI grant, 2015
Gordon Research Conference Travel Award, 2015
University of British Columbia Travel Grant, 2014
Barrie Foundation Young Investigator Prize, 2014
University of British Columbia Robert Emmanuel & Mary Day Endowment Award, 2014
American Society for Microbiology Travel Grant, 2012
University of British Columbia Robert Emmanuel & Mary Day Endowment Award, 2012
By: Frank Morris
Sepsis is a huge problem, says César de La Fuente, a 30-year-old scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
De la Fuente, who hails from Spain and lives in Somerville, is considered a leader in the fields of microbiology, immunology and bioengineering, and has pioneered the discovery of new therapies to combat the global health problem of antibiotic resistance.
“Someone who has a wound that gets infected — that simple scenario, if you don’t treat it, can cause death.” In fact, sepsis accounts for 200,000 deaths per year worldwide, and drug-resistant infections are predicted to kill 10 million people worldwide per year by 2050.
“It’s quite spectacular how bad it is,” he said, citing other examples of chronic infections: cystic fibrosis, diabetic foot ulcers and urinary tract infections, to name a few.
In each of those cases, the success rate is very low, or antibiotics taken can lead to subsequent colonization of fungi or bacteria. “They’re very resistant to antibodies; very difficult to treat,” he said. “We’re hoping to solve some of those.”
With a strong belief that nature holds the key to some of the world’s biggest health problems, de la Fuente has turned to tiny peptides — or proteins — taking what is considered in his field to be a fundamentally different approach to drug discovery.
“What I’m trying to do, and do for some time, is try to design new proteins that can be engineered in such a way that they have a functional application. We can change the sequence of the proteins. In my case, I focus on antibiotic resistance, so basically my goal, my vision is to try to engineer these proteins to do what current antibiotics can’t do.”
In contrast to currently available antibiotics, these peptides are “multifunctional,” so microbes have trouble developing resistance, he said. Now seven years in the making, de la Fuente says he hopes his technology will soon be available for clinical trials. He is also in the process of creating a company based on his peptide therapeutics.
Thus far, de la Fuente’s innovative techniques have led to more than 25 publications and he has presented at numerous international talks.
“I always thought that I needed to find a problem to solve that motivated me every day, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth it to me. In this case, it is to promote human health, to improve the life of humans on earth,” de la Fuente said. “This is a huge problem, and it’s about doing something that save lives at the end of the day.”