Monell Center Receives Kleberg Foundation Grant to Discriminate Bacterial and Viral Immune Responses to Reduce Antibiotic Use

PHILADELPHIA, January 18, 2021 – According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly three million people will acquire an antibiotic-resistant infection each year in the United States. Doctors are currently overprescribing antibiotics for feverish individuals during the pandemic, despite widespread knowledge that COVID-19 is caused by a virus.

Bruce A. Kimball, PhD

Bruce A. Kimball, PhD

To aid in reducing over-prescription of antibiotics in general, the Monell Chemical Senses Center has received a two-year, $890,000 grant from the Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation. Monell scientists and collaborators will develop a new way to classify fever-inducing diseases using distinct signatures of volatile chemicals from urine and saliva. The team, led by Monell Member Bruce A. Kimball, PhD, will study human cell cultures for volatile molecules that can potentially discriminate bacterial from viral immunogens to follow parallel volatiles in human patients with known viral and bacterial infections.

“This work is particularly novel since its goal is to diagnose different types of infectious disease, rather than diagnose a specific pathogen, in order to promote proper use of antibiotics worldwide,” said Kimball.

The team will identify patterns of volatile molecules – the volatile metabolome – that uniquely differentiate bacterial and viral causes of febrile disease.

“This critical funding from the Kleberg Foundation will enable us to develop an accurate, rapid, and low-cost diagnostic test to differentiate among major categories of infectious disease agents,” said Monell Center Director Robert Margolskee, MD, PhD“With this knowledge, we can give physicians decision-making tools to limit unnecessary prescription of antibiotics.”

Preliminary evidence supports the team’s innovative approach. In animal studies, pathogen-associated molecules representing viruses and gram-negative bacteria uniquely altered the pattern of volatiles observed in urine. These volatile signals may also distinguish gram-positive bacterial infection from both gram-negative bacterial and viral infections.

In the Kleberg-funded work, the team will use human cell lines stimulated with distinctive bacterial and viral agents to identify and quantify volatile products. From this, identified target biomarkers will be used to evaluate urine and saliva collected from febrile human patients, working with colleagues at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Chemical analyses of volatile metabolites, along with statistical evaluation of patterns of these volatile components, will identify distinctive signatures differentiating the three broad agents of infection.

“The end goal is to identify diagnostically useful volatile patterns that can then be adapted for in-office devices to quickly guide therapeutic decisions,” said Kimball.


The Monell Chemical Senses Center is an independent nonprofit basic research institute based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1968, Monell‘s mission is to improve health and well-being by advancing the scientific understanding of taste, smell, and related senses, where our discoveries lead to improving nutritional health, diagnosing and treating disease, addressing smell and taste loss, and digitizing chemosensory data.