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35 Innovators Under 35


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Photograph of Silvia Caballero

Silvia Caballero

Vedanta Biosciences
Country of birth: Peru

Training helpful bacteria to fight the world’s most dangerous pathogens

  • by Karen Weintraub
  • In 20 years, antibiotic drug resistance is projected to kill more people than cancer. That’s why Silvia Caballero feels such urgency to develop new approaches to controlling bacterial infections.

    She was among the first to discover that certain organisms among the trillions that inhabit the human gut can help the body fight back when antibiotic-resistant bacteria begin to take hold.

    While working in a lab at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, Caballero developed lab mice that mimic intestinal colonization by vancomycin--resistant enterococcus and carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae, also known as superbugs. She used these models together with bioinformatic tools to identify species of microbes that could clear the mouse gut of multi-drug- resistant bacteria, in this way destroying the main reservoir for infection.

    Now working for Vedanta Biosciences in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Caballero is trying to do the same for people, identifying bacteria that can effectively control three potentially lethal bacterial strains often found in hospitals and nursing homes.

    She played a key role in the creation of the world’s largest library of human gut bacteria and led a campaign to test thousands of species for their ability to kill those three menacing organisms. Her work led to the identification of a bacterial cocktail derived from human gut flora that can control all three types of bacteria. Vedanta’s goal is to begin clinical studies with this drug candidate in 2021.