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13th May 2021 Cystic Fibrosis

World-first nanotechnology improves antibiotic by 100,000-fold

Two researchers looking at a sample

People living with cystic fibrosis set to benefit

World-first nanotechnology developed by the University of South Australia could change the lives of thousands of people living with cystic fibrosis (CF) as ground-breaking research shows it can improve the effectiveness of the antibiotic Tobramycin by up to 100,000-fold.

The new technology uses a biomimetic nanostructured material to strengthen Tobramycin – the antibiotic prescribed in severe cases of CF – eradicating the infection in as little as two doses.

In Australia, cystic fibrosis (CF) affects one in 2500 babies – or one baby born every four days – causing severe impairments to a person’s lungs, airways and digestive system, trapping bacteria and leading to recurrent infections. Lung failure is the major cause of death for people with CF.

The UniSA research team, which includes Professor Clive Prestidge, THRF Mid-Career Fellow Dr Nicky Thomas, and PhD candidate Chelsea Thorn, says the discovery could transform the lives of people living with CF.

“CF is a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent, chronic lung infections and limits a person’s ability to breathe,” Chelsea says.

“The disease causes thick, sticky mucus to clog a person’s airways, attracting germs and bacteria, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which leads to recurring infections and blockages.

“Tobramycin is commonly used to treat these infections but increasingly antibiotics are failing to make any significant difference to lung infections, leaving sufferers requiring life-long antibiotic therapy administered every month.

“Our research successfully treats advanced human cell culture lung infections using nano-enhanced Tobramycin and shows how it can eradicate serious and persistent infections after only two doses. This could be a real game-changer for people living with CF.”

Researchers enhanced the Tobramycin with a biometric, nanostructured, lipid liquid crystal nanoparticle (LCNP)-based material, testing it on a new lung infection model to showcase its unique ability to penetrate the dense surface of the bacteria and kill the infection.

THRF Mid-Career Fellow Dr Nicky Thomas says the discovery continues the global battle to eradicate and prevent Pseudomonas aeruginosa.


A male researcher in a lab testing samples

Dr Nicky Thomas

“Tobramycin works by inhibiting the synthesis of bacteria and causing cell membrane damage. Yet, as it’s a concentration-dependent antibiotic, achieving a sufficiently high concentration is critical,” Dr Thomas says.

“Our technology improves the performance of Tobramycin without increasing the toxicity of the drug, so what we’re doing is a far more effective and efficient treatment for chronic lung infections.”


The technology is currently entering pre-clinical trials and hopes to be on the market in the next five years.

The research group for this study includes the University of South Australia; the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health and Research; the ARC Centre for Excellence in Bio-Nano Science and Technology; the Biofilm Test facility at UniSA’s Cancer Research Institute; the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland; and Saarland University.