Friday, August 25, 2017
The war against superbugs - RESEARCH
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria already kill around 700,000 people each year, but a recent study suggests that number could rise to around 10 million by 2050.
In addition to common hospital superbug, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), scientists are now also concerned that gonorrhea is about to become resistant to all remaining drugs.
But Shu Lam, a 25 year old PhD student at the University of Melbourne in Australia, has developed a star-shaped polymer that can kill six different superbug strains without antibiotics, simply by ripping apart their cell walls.
"We’ve discovered that [the polymers] actually target the bacteria and kill it in multiple ways," Lam told Nicola Smith from The Telegraph. "One method is by physically disrupting or breaking apart the cell wall of the bacteria. This creates a lot of stress on the bacteria and causes it to start killing itself."
The research has been published in Nature Microbiology, and according to Smith, it's already being hailed by scientists in the field as "a breakthrough that could change the face of modern medicine".
Before we get too carried away, it's still very early days. So far, Lam has only tested her star-shaped polymers on six strains of drug-resistant bacteria in the lab, and on one superbug in live mice.
But in all experiments, they've been able to kill their targeted bacteria - and generation after generation don't seem to develop resistance to the polymers.
The polymers - which they call SNAPPs, or structurally nanoengineered antimicrobial peptide polymers - work by directly attacking, penetrating, and then destabilizing the cell membrane of bacteria.
Unlike antibiotics, which 'poison' bacteria, and can also affect healthy cells in the area, the SNAPPs that Lam has designed are so large that they don't seem to affect healthy cells at all.
Paper (under paywall):http://www.nature.com/articles/nmicrobiol2016162
Image: A microscopic photo of a superbug being attacked by proteins developed by University of Melbourne researchers
Source: Corina Marinescu