Drug-resistant superbugs are one of the monolithic challenges facing the 21st century. They currently kill around 700,000 people each year. If the current trend continues, that annual death rate could be as high as 10 million by 2050. Fortunately, scientists across the world are working hard to hold back the flood.
A new synthetic molecule capable of killing at least five deadly types of multi-drug resistant bacteria has been developed by researchers from the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore and IBN Research. Their incredible work was recently reported in the scientific journal Nature Communications.
“There is an urgent global need for new antimicrobials that are effective against superbugs," Professor Jackie Y. Ying, executive director of IBN, said in a statement. "The situation has become more acute because bacteria are starting to develop resistance to the last-line antibiotics, which are given only to patients infected with bacteria resistant to available antibiotics."
Known under the catch name of “guanidinium-functionalized polycarbonates”, these biodegradable synthetic molecules are capable of killing a bunch of multidrug-resistant bacterial infections in mice, including pneumonia, E. coli, MRSA, and lung infections from Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The polymers are also non-toxic to human cells and cause next-to-no side effects.
“We have demonstrated the first example of a biodegradable synthetic macromolecule with broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity in mice, unique killing mechanism and no toxicity," said Dr Yi Yan Yang, group leader at IBN. "Once the polymer finishes its job of killing the bacteria, it will be naturally degraded after three days and will not remain in the body."
It also works in a particularly interesting way. As pictured above, the positively charged synthetic polymer is drawn to the negative charge of the bacteria’s membrane. From here, it neutralizes the positive charges of the polymer to enter the bacterial cell membrane.
“This study illustrates the potential for this new research field we denote as ‘macromolecular therapeutics’ to create entirely new classes of treatments for multiple diseases,” added Dr James Hedrick, distinguished research staff member, IBM Research – Almaden, San Jose, California. “In 2016, we demonstrated the efficacy of synthetic polymers to combat deadly viral diseases. The current research for treating bacterial infections rounds out our ability to someday treat a spectrum of infectious diseases with a single, new type of mechanism without the onset of resistance.”
While this type of solution has only been tested out on mice, it could hold some real promise in the fight against drug-resistant bacterial infections in humans. In the meantime, our best bet to prevent the spread of drug-resistance is to avoid the overuse and misuse of antibiotics.