Tune in to Focus Carolina during morning, noon and evening drive times and on the weekends to hear stories from faculty members at UNC and find out what ignites their passion for their work. Focus Carolina is an exclusive program on 97.9 The Hill WCHL, sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Bo Li with the UNC Department of Chemistry studies the chemistry and biology of natural products to address major challenges in infectious disease. Her lab uses novel approaches to unlock ways natural products can be developed to combat antibiotic resistance.

“We have a worldwide problems of antibiotic resistance and mostly because the antibiotics have been overused,” Li said.

One of the diseases that Li’s lab studies is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

“These bacteria can cause staph infections and are difficult to treat because they are resistant to multiple antibiotics.”

In Li’s lab, they start from the very fundamentals in order to understand a disease.

“From our lab, we start from the very fundamental science. First, we would identify a molecule with a really strong ability to inhibit the pathogen that causes the disease. And then as chemists, we’ll do optimization of these molecules in the lab to make them better, have better properties, better functioning humans.

And then we would collaborate with scientists in the medical school where we can test these molecules in different ways. Next step, perhaps is going to clinical trials for some of the more promising leads that we discover through these initial studies.”

Listen to part one of the interview with Dr. Li:

In her classroom and labs, Dr. Lee teaches her students exactly how to convert something very simple to very powerful.

“I’m teaching it right now to my advanced bio chemistry class,” Li said, “which are composed of junior and senior undergraduate students. We try to really teach them to understand the fundamental chemistry and then the tremendous application chemistry can have.”

Dr. Li said that the slow, but steady, process in the labs can be very emotional for her team.

“The normal process is that discovery takes time. So quite often we have some clues of what’s going on, but we can’t quite put our finger to exactly what’s going on. So I think those moments tend to be really exciting, but also frustrating at the same time.

“But then my students and I work through that period and then when we have the ‘Aha!’ moment, everyone is really excited. We call some of the results ‘pizza results’ and then the result is so exciting and we’ve been pursuing for so long, it’s worth getting pizza to celebrate.”

Listen to part two of the interview with Dr. Li:

Featured image via Lars Sahl