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UC Berkeley Press Release

Biochemist Hiroshi Nikaido honored for research on antibiotic-resistant bacteria

– University of California, Berkeley, biochemist Hiroshi Nikaido, M.D., has received the 14th annual Bristol-Myers Squibb "Freedom to Discover" Award for Distinguished Achievement in Infectious Diseases Research.

Nikaido, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at UC Berkeley, was recognized for his groundbreaking contributions to understanding the mechanisms of bacterial resistance to antibiotics and insights that have led to the design of more effective antibiotics.

Hiroshi Nikaido
Hiroshi Nikaido, M.D. (Photo courtesy Bristol-Myers Squibb)

The award, which consists of a $50,000 cash prize and a silver commemorative medallion, is part of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Freedom to Discover Unrestricted Biomedical Research Grants and Awards Program, which was initiated in 1977. It is awarded annually in each of six therapeutic areas by Bristol-Myers Squibb, a global pharmaceutical and health care products company. Nikaido will receive his award at a dinner to be held in New York City on Oct. 14.

Nikaido began his studies in 1959 to find out why some bacteria, particularly gram-negative bacteria, are so resistant to many popular antibiotics. His initial findings led to the discovery of the role played by double membranes that surround bacterial cells and by a particular constituent of these membranes, called LPS, which creates a barrier to certain large molecules, including many antibiotics. By 1976, he discovered a new class of proteins, called porins, which produced channels within these cells through which smaller molecules, including necessary nutrients, could enter.

Over the years, he and his colleagues defined a variety of factors that affect drug penetration of the cell wall, and in so doing, helped other scientists pursue new approaches to antibiotic design, including fourth generation cephalosporins that could overcome or circumvent some of these factors. He also found a new class of proteins called slow porins, which seemed to play an even greater role in most antibiotic resistance. In the 1990s, he discovered that gram-negative bacteria have multidrug efflux pumps - intracellular mechanisms that actively transport antibiotics back out of the cell, thus avoiding harm to the bacteria.

"Dr. Hiroshi Nikaido's laboratory has applied both biochemistry and genetics, as well as a great deal of scientific rigor, to the question of what causes antibiotic resistance and what science can do to overcome that resistance and create more effective antibiotics," said Richard Colonno, Ph.D., vice president for Infectious Diseases Drug Discovery at Bristol-Myers Squibb. "From his initial pioneering work on the role of outer membranes, to his more recent efforts on the transport systems inside the cell that can actually pump antibiotics out again, Nikaido has demonstrated that there is no single answer to the many complex questions we face in this area of infectious disease research. His contributions have been enormous and we are pleased to be able to recognize them with this honor."

Born in Tokyo, Japan, Nikaido received his medical degree in 1955 and his doctorate in medical science in 1961, both from Keio University School of Medicine in Tokyo. He did post-doctoral work at Osaka University and at Harvard Medical School. In 1963, he joined Harvard Medical School as a faculty member, first as an associate and then as an assistant professor of bacteriology, while also serving as an assistant biochemist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

He became an associate professor in the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology at UC Berkeley in 1969, chairman of the department in 1972 and a professor in the department from 1971 to 1989. He was named to his current position as professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology there in 1989.

Among his many honors, Nikaido received the Paul Ehrlich Prize in 1969, the Hoechst-Roussel Award from the American Society of Microbiology in 1984, was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 1984 and a National Institutes of Health Senior International Fellow in 1989. He also received the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Merit Award in 1991 and became a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology in 1997.

Nikaido is the author of more than 275 peer-reviewed articles. He served or currently serves on the editorial boards of a number of distinguished journals, including Molecular Microbiology, Infection and Immunity, Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, Microbial Drug Resistance, and Drug Resistance Updates, and was an editor of the Journal of Bacteriology.



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