Almost 35,000 cases were reported in England during 2014, with most cases affecting young men and women under the age of 25.
The scientists found that Neisseria gonorrhoeae is more sensitive to CO-based toxicity than other model bacterial pathogens, and may serve as a viable candidate for antimicrobial therapy using CO-RMs. The CO molecule works by binding to the bacteria, preventing them from producing energy.
Scientists believe the breakthrough, published in the journal MedChemComm, could pave the way for new treatments.
Professor Ian Fairlamb, from the University’s Department of Chemistry, said: “The carbon monoxide molecule targets the engine room, stopping the bacteria from respiring. Gonorrhoea only has one enzyme that needs inhibiting and then it can’t respire oxygen and it dies.
“People will be well aware that CO is a toxic molecule but that is at high concentrations. Here we are using very low concentrations which we know the bacteria are sensitive to.
“We are looking at a molecule that can be released in a safe and controlled way to where it is needed.”
The team say the next stage is to develop a drug, either in the form of a pill or cream, so that the fundamental research findings can be translated on to future clinical trials.
Professor Fairlamb added: “We think our study is an important breakthrough. It isn’t the final drug yet but it is pretty close to it.”
“People might perceive gonorrhoea as a trivial bacterial infection, but the disease is becoming more dangerous and resistant to antibiotics.”