A new weapon in the war against superbugs

Researchers from the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics have made a breakthrough that could pave the way for new treatments for antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem when it comes to treating some of our most lethal illnesses.

The evolution of disease-causing bacteria enables them to develop strategies that undermine the efficacy of antibiotics that are currently available. The resulting “superbugs” are increasingly difficult to treat and can cause dangerous infections.

This has become a major problem in our hospitals, where sick and immunocompromised patients are at a higher risk of acquiring these infections.

Visualisation of Staphylococcus aureus

Staphylococcus aureus

However, researchers from the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics have made promising headway in this area. Building on the recent discovery of the naturally occurring “resistance resistant” antibiotic, teixobactin, Dr Maytham Hussein and Associate Professor Tony Velkov have successfully produced a compound that has shown effectiveness against the virulent bacteria methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Their research, published in mSystems journal, is the first in the world to explain how teixobactin works in relation to MRSA, which can cause a range of hard-to-treat infections including secondary bacterial infections in patients recovering from COVID-19 and influenza.

“The rise of multi drug-resistant bacteria has become inevitable,” said Dr Hussein. “These bacteria cause many deadly infections, particularly in immunocompromised patients such as diabetic patients or those with cancers, or even elderly people with post-flu secondary bacterial infections.”

But while antibiotic resistance remains an ongoing challenge, the researchers also found that teixobactin could help suppress the mechanisms involved in resistance to some other antibiotics. This breakthrough will facilitate further research that could lead to new lung infection treatments.

“Bacteria often develop resistance towards antibiotics within 48 hours after exposure,” Associate Professor Velkov said. “The bacteria failed to develop resistance towards this compound over 48 hours.

“These novel results will open doors to develop novel antivacterial drugs for the treatment of multi-drug resistance Gram-positive infections – bacteria with a thick cell wall – which are caused by certain types of bacteria.”

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