Scientists Discover New Compound That Kills Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs

antibiotic-resistant
E-coli (Credit: University of Sheffield/CLF)

A new compound which visualises and kills antibiotic-resistant superbugs has been discovered by UK scientists. 

Antimicrobial resistance is already responsible for 25,000 deaths in the EU each year and, unless this rapidly emerging threat is addressed, it’s estimated by 2050 more than 10 million people could die every year due to antibiotic-resistant infections.

The team, including scientists from the University of Sheffield and STFC’s Central Laser Facilty (CLF), has been testing new compounds on antibiotic-resistant gram-negative bacteria, including pathogenic E. coli.

Gram-negative bacteria strains can cause infections including pneumonia, urinary tract infections and bloodstream infections. They are difficult to treat as the cell wall of the bacteria prevents drugs from getting into the microbe.

There has not been a new treatment for gram-negative bacteria in the last 50 years, and no potential drugs have entered clinical trials since 2010.

The team used CLF’s OCTOPUS laser to study the compound using a technique called simulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy – which allowed them to study how the bacteria behaved in super-resolution.

Dr Dave Clarke, Division Head of CLF’s Lasers for Science, said: “The CLF’s OCTOPUS facility brings together advanced microscopy techniques with a multidisciplinary team of experts, to help the academic and industrial research communities answer questions in a wide range of areas including biomedical science, chemistry, and materials.

“This work is a good example of how one of the high-resolution microscopy techniques available in OCTOPUS can be used to address societally important issues, in this case the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.”

Project lead Professor Jim Thomas, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Chemistry, added: “As the compound is luminescent it glows when exposed to light. This means the uptake and effect on bacteria can be followed by the advanced microscope techniques available at CLF. 

“This breakthrough could lead to vital new treatments to life-threatening superbugs and the growing risk posed by antimicrobial resistance.”

The studies at Sheffield and CLF have shown the compound seems to have several modes of action, making it more difficult for resistance to emerge in the bacteria. The next step of the research will be to test it against other multi-resistant bacteria.