Nov. 19, 2013 | To understand why Mark Smeltzer, Ph.D., was about to be recognized as a Distinguished Faculty Scholar in the UAMS College of Medicine, all anyone had to do was look at the near-capacity audience gathered in Pauly Auditorium to hear the announcement and to hear the veteran professor lecture.
His students, faculty colleagues, college administrators and staff took almost every seat in every row.
Smeltzer joined the faculty in 1993 and is a professor in the college’s Department of Microbiology & Immunology and the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. He is also director of the recently established Center for Microbial Pathogenesis and Host Inflammatory responses, which is funded by a 5-year, $10 million award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
“He contributes tirelessly to UAMS and the College of Medicine, his students and trainees,” said G. Richard Smith, M.D., dean of the UAMS College of Medicine. “It’s very unusual to achieve status as a Distinguished Scholar after only 20 years. It is quite phenomenal to already have earned that honor from your own colleagues in the institution.”
Smeltzer’s research has been continually funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and he is currently ranked 46th out of 993 NIH funded microbiologists.
Smith also praised Smeltzer’s commitment to multidisciplinary research, his passion for teaching and mentoring graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and medical students, and his service on numerous faculty committees and councils.
Smeltzer spent many years growing up in Kansas and attending schools there. He ultimately earned his Ph.D. from Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan. However, he was born in El Dorado. “A research and teaching position here at UAMS was a chance to come home,” said Smeltzer. “All I was interested in was being a medical researcher. I didn’t know what kind of medical researcher I wanted to be, but I knew I could come home and pursue that dream at UAMS in a clinically relevant fashion.”
Before coming to UAMS, Smeltzer trained with John J. Iandolo, Ph.D., a University Distinguished Professor at Kansas State and currently vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, as a microbial pathogenesis investigator with an emphasis on infections caused by Staphylococcus aureus. After joining the UAMS faculty, Smeltzer focused his efforts on orthopaedic infections under the guidance of the late Carl L. Nelson, M.D., the long-time chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.
This transition was reflected in his title “Bad to the Bone: Staphylococcus aureus as an Orthopaedic Pathogen”. His Distinguished Dean’s Lecture broadly outlined his current research areas including developing a more accurate method for the diagnosis of bone and orthopaedic implant-associated infections in their earliest stages, improvements in the delivery of antibiotics to infected areas, and the development of new antibiotics with a focus on the efficacy in biofilm-associated infections.
Biofilms are clusters of microbes that stick to each other on a surface. Smeltzer explained how bacteria, by grouping together in this fashion, are less vulnerable to both antibiotics and host defense mechanisms. Surgery is required to remove infected tissues and indwelling devices. He and other researchers in his group are searching for ways to prevent these biofilms from forming, making antibiotic therapy more effective.
One method uses small molecules to encourage the production of S. aureus protease enzymes that prevent biofilm formation.
Another uses antibodies to deliver nanoparticles to S. aureus cells within biofilms. Once the nanoparticles are present on the biofilm-associated cells, laser irradiation can be used to heat them in such a way that cellular membranes of the bacteria are destroyed with little harm to surrounding tissue. Importantly, this method would be effective even against antibiotic-resistant bacteria including methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA).
Smeltzer said the next step is to see if these methods of diagnosis and treatment can be combined with the each other into a clinical approach that would more effectively treat this increasingly important type of infection.