Antibiotic resistance is a terrifying ordeal that humanity is facing. And up until now, we have been on the losing side.
The tide of this conflict might soon change, thanks to a new discovery by PhD student Shu Lam and her colleagues from the University of Melbourne and University of South Australia. The researchers have developed a method that kills antibiotic-resistant bacteria, known as “superbugs”, without the use of antibiotics.
In a paper published in Nature Microbiology a few weeks ago, the team discussed the development of star-shaped polymers called SNAPPs (structurally nanoengineered antimicrobial peptide polymers) that are capable of killing bacteria in multiple ways without harming other cells.
The study is promising, but it's still very early days. So far, the SNAPPs were effective on six different superbugs in the lab and even against one in mice.
“We found the polymers to be really good at wiping out bacterial infections,” Lam told The Telegraph. “They are actually effective in treating mice infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. At the same time, they are quite non-toxic to the healthy cells in the body.”
The SNAPPs are too large (about 10 nanometers) to enter healthy cells, but they create havoc in bacteria. The 16- or 32-point stars attach themselves to the superbugs and can physically rip apart the cell wall.
But the polymer can also allow ions to penetrate the cytoplasm membrane, wrecking the metabolism of the bacteria and even causing apoptosis, a type of programmed cellular death.
The researchers were interested in finding new ways to fight antimicrobial resistance, looking at avenues that had not been explored before.
“I really hope that the polymers we are trying to develop here could eventually be a solution,” added Lam.
According to the World Health Organization, each year almost half a million people develop tuberculosis, which is resistant to several drugs. Antimicrobial resistance is also affecting infections caused by viruses, like HIV and parasites like malaria. It is estimated that 700,000 people die each year because of superbugs, and the number is expected to reach 10 million by 2050.
[H/T: The Telegraph]