B-Chain Magainin Derivative

Biotechnologist Emilie Porter was fortunate enough to get involved in research very early on in her education. This was the factor, she says, that helped her accomplish an important discovery in her field while still a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin.

Born in 1976, Porter attended Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, completing her undergraduate degree in chemistry with honors in 1998. As an undergraduate she was first exposed to research processes and became interested in a career in the area of pharmaceutical discovery. In the fall of 1998, she entered the University of Wisconsin at Madison in pursuit of a doctoral degree in organic chemistry.

Working with a research team there, lead by Professor Samuel Gellman, Porter discovered a synthetic peptide that has the potential to fight bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. The fundamental discovery could lead to the creation of a new class of antimicrobial agents.

Porter and her colleagues published their findings on the peptides, called “magainins” in the journal “Nature” in 2000. These molecules, first discovered on the skin of toads, are a naturally occurring class of medium-sized peptides that organisms employ as a defense against microbial infection. The molecules are said to degrade quickly in living tissue, and though they effectively fight bacteria in toads, they can be toxic to human cells.

In pursuit of a similar substance that would work more effectively in humans, Porter and her team developed a synthetic “b-chain magainin derivative” that imitates the natural molecule and also has its same antimicrobial effects. The synthetic version proved to be less toxic to human cells as well. And what’s more, it also appeared to be effective against some bacteria that had developed a resistance to antibiotics.

In 2000, Porter was honored with the $20,000 National Inventors Hall of Fame Collegiate Inventors Prize for her discovery, titled “Synthetic Antibiotic Peptide That Is a Beta-Amino Acid Oligomer.” She received a patent for the molecule, which could serve as the basis for groundbreaking, disease-fighting drugs in the future, especially chemotherapy.

Porter became a National Institute of Health Predoctoral Fellow in the University of Wisconsin’s Biotechnology Training Program in 2000. She has co-authored a number of publications and has received a number of academic awards and scholarships in support of her research.