UK scientists make a breakthrough in superbug battle
THE global threat posed by resistance to antibiotics could finally be tackled after UK scientists discovered a chink in the armour of deadly bacteria.
Health experts have warned that within 20 years, operations like organ transplants and even routine procedures like hip replacements could be deadly because of the risk of infection.
But now scientists at the University of East Anglia have discovered how the bug responsible for E-coli and salmonella builds an impenetrable wall to keep out drugs.
They believe that within a few years, they could develop a drug that switches off the wall-building mechanism and makes the bacteria vulnerable.
"It is a very significant breakthrough," said Prof Changjiang Dong, from the university's Norwich Medical School.
"This is really important because drug-resistant bacteria is a global health problem. Many current antibiotics are becoming useless, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths each year.
"Many bacteria build up an outer defence which is important for their survival and drug resistance. We have found a way to stop that happening.
"The number of superbugs is increasing at an unexpected rate. This research provides the platform for urgently-needed new-generation drugs."
The discovery, reported in the journal, 'Nature', could lead to antibiotic drugs that work by bringing down the defensive wall.
Bugs such as MRSA are becoming increasingly immune to "last resort" antibiotics. If the trend continues, the world could return to the pre-antibiotics era when even a small scratch could prove fatal.
At the heart of the breakthrough is the way "gram-negative" bacterial cells transport molecular "bricks" to the surface of the cell and form a wall.
"Gram-negative" bacteria, which include E-coli and the bugs that cause gonorrhea, cholera and legionnaires disease, are especially resistant to antibiotics.
They can evolve a number of mechanisms to make them immune to drugs, including reducing the permeability of their outer membrane.
But if the membrane barrier falls, the bacteria die, whatever other defences they may have developed.
Haohao Dong, another member of the university's team, said: "The really exciting thing about this research is that new drugs will specifically target the protective barrier around the bacteria, rather than the bacteria itself." (© Daily Telegraph, London)