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Natural proteins kill hospital ‘superbugs’

By Tim Sandle     Aug 27, 2014 in Science
Belfast - Scientists have made a breakthrough in the fight against the most resistant hospital superbugs. Researchers have developed an innovative antibacterial gel that can break down the thick jelly-like coating (biofilms) which cover bacteria.
When bacteria attach to surfaces, including medical implants such as hip replacements and catheters, they produce a jelly-like substance called the biofilm. This protective layer is very tough and current anti-bacterial agents cannot easily penetrate through.
Hospital superbugs are an area of major concern around the world. Taking the U.K., for example, it has been estimated that there are about 5,000 deaths a year due to strains of bacteria that have become resistant. As to what makes a ‘superbug’, bacteria can carry genes that allow them to survive exposure to many of the antibiotics that are currently available. This means that infections caused by these bacteria are harder to treat, although they are not necessarily more severe or infectious. What is concerning is that the gene that carries antibiotic resistance can be passed between bacteria, allowing for the creation of bacteria that carry resistance genes to many different antibiotics: ‘a superbug’.
The developed gels are able to target and kill the most resistant forms of hospital ‘superbugs’. The gels are composed of the building blocks of natural proteins, called peptides (these are the same ingredients that form human tissue). These molecules are modified slightly in the laboratory to allow them to form gels that will rapidly kill bacteria.
The study was carried out at Queen's University Belfast, led by Dr Garry Laverty. The study has been reported in the journal Biomacromolecules. The paper is titled “Ultrashort Cationic Naphthalene-Derived Self-Assembled Peptides as Antimicrobial Nanomaterials”.
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