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31st January 2020 Latest News

The fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria

A male researcher in a lab testing samples

Finding new ways to fight bacteria which have become resistant to antibiotics.

A new method of fighting bacteria which have become resistant to antibiotics has been developed by local researchers – and showing incredible results!

Did you know bacteria are smart? They hide in a slime to protect themselves from antibiotics. This slime is called biofilm.

Finding a way to pierce through this biofilm barrier and deliver treatments directly to a patient’s infection is essential to helping patients fight off their infections, specifically those with wound, implant and upper respiratory infections.

Dr Nicky Thomas, a THRF Mid Career Fellow based at the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research, and his team have developed a unique Trojan Horse strategy (where the attack is hidden in a carrier) to help deliver an enzyme which can disperse the protective barrier.

“I met some researchers in Canada who have devised an enzyme which breaks down the slimy biofilm barrier,” Dr Thomas said.

“However these enzymes are not very stable. For example, you couldn’t eat them, because your stomach would destroy them.

“So we had to come up with a strategy for how we could deliver this enzyme so it still keeps its function and doesn’t get degraded by its environment. Importantly, we also want it to act only if it comes across an infection.”

That’s where Dr Thomas’s unique fighting method comes in!

“To achieve this I have proposed a Trojan Horse strategy. So rather than knocking down that protective wall, we devised something that can get inside it and then kill the bad bacteria from the inside.

“Using a safe food-grade compound, we can make tiny containers that we load with our enzyme and antibiotic, thereby preserving them.

“The remarkable thing about this technology is that we make the bacteria believe they have a feast on what looks like food to them – but what they actually do is open the gate to let in what leads to their downfall, just like a Trojan Horse.”

Dr Thomas and his team have also found a way for the carrier to sense the presence of bad bacteria and respond by releasing its load.

“The carrier senses an infection and uses the bad bacteria as a cue to release whatever it contains. We’ve actually shown that the carriers really like bacteria!”

With the carriers able to deliver both the enzyme which breaks down the biofilm and antibiotics to kill the bacteria –  plus be attracted to infections – the bacteria doesn’t stand a chance!

And the results in the laboratory have been mind-blowing: “Using our Trojan Horse approach we see a million-fold reduction in bacteria, that is a 99.9999% reduction.”

Taking the carriers beyond the lab is the next step for Dr Thomas. We look forward to keeping you updated on this exciting research!