An Indiana University microbiologist has been awarded a $3.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to look for vulnerabilities in the cell wall of bacterial pathogens, including a well-known  "superbug." 

The "superbug" is responsible for pneumonia, bacterial meningitis, and other diseases. It has developed antibiotic resistance and is increasing at what IU professor Malcolm Winkler calls an alarming rate.

Winkler is studying the dynamics of peptidoglycan cell wall synthesis. His lab uses the respiratory pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae to test cell walls, which give cells strength and structure.

By finding the vulnerabilities, or weak spots, Winkler and his team can help lead to the discovery of future vaccines and antibiotics.

Streptococcus pneumoniae causes about 4 million infections a year worldwide, of which 1.2 million are drug resistant. On a global scale, nearly a quarter of those cases end in the death, with 25,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.

Winkler says many of those deaths are because the pneumonia strain has developed a resistance to drugs that are currently available

IU says the grant will allow the Winkler lab to determine the composition, chronology, coordination and regulation of these protein molecular machines at different stages of cell division.