New Strategies to Treat Chronic Bacterial Infections Pioneered at Diamond Light Source and University of Southampton

chronic bacterial infections
Dr Ivo Tews

University of Southampton biological scientists, working with colleagues at the Diamond Light Source synchrotron in Oxfordshire, have gained new insight into tackling chronic bacterial infections commonly associated with conditions such as cystic fibrosis (CF).

Sticky mucus within the lungs of people with the disease can harbour bacteria within communities known as biofilms. The World Health Organisation says the important human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosafound within the biofilms is among 12 drug-resistant bacteria that pose the greatest threat to health. Up to now, difficulty removing them from the biofilm prevented successful targeting with antibiotics.

The team around PhD students Andrew Hutchin and Sam Horrell and postdoctoral fellow Dr Dom Bellini study particular enzymes that can be activated to extract the bacteria from the biofilms. Together they have exploited the bright beams of light produced at Diamond to probe a switch in the molecular structures of these enzymes that regulates biofilm production, which provides a basis for future development of drugs that support therapies tackling the rise in antimicrobial resistance.

“This work is fundamental science with many applications within the life sciences and beyond,” says Dr Ivo Tews, Lecturer in Structural Biology. “Biofilms cause problems as they build up inside the body, on medical devices and even as plaque on teeth. Southampton is a centre of excellence for research into biofilms and we collaborate with other leading researchers around the world to find answers to the most difficult problems.”

Andrew studied BSc Biochemistry at Southampton before embarking on his PhD that is jointly funded between the University and Diamond. The work is supervised by Dr Ivo Tews and Professor Jeremy Webbat the University and by Dr Martin Walsh, the Life Sciences Co-ordinator at Diamond. His research with Dr Sam Horrell and Dr Dom Bellini at Diamond has been published in Nature.com Scientific Reports.