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Collaborative Research Effort Reveals Chemical Compound That Kills Drug-Resistant Bacteria

Researchers at SMART, MIT’s research enterprise in Singapore and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) discovers breakthrough that may take a step towards solving the antimicrobial resistance crisis.

According to a recent World Health Organization report, antimicrobial resistant infections and disease causes at least 700,000 deaths each year, increasing resistance to antimicrobial drugs is a serious cause for concern.

In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, a team of researchers from SMART AMR and NTU in the fourth quarter of 2019 explains the design of a novel polymer – co-beta-peptide – which is able to eliminate methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) biofilms and antibiotic-tolerant persisters. This breakthrough research will provide potential for the development of pharmaceuticals against antimicrobial resistant bacteria and help to reduce the number of deaths caused by such bacteria.

The research was jointly published by a group of scientists at NTU and SMART AMR, led by Dr Mary Chan-Park, SMART AMR Principal Investigator and Professor at NTU’s School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, and Dr. Kevin Pethe, Associate Professor at the NTU Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.

“Typically, antibiotics don’t work on various forms of bacteria like biofilm and persistent bacteria as they become resistant,” said Chan-Park. “We are therefore really excited that our new beta-peptide polymer has shown great promise in combating existing antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Further, it has also proven its lethality against biofilm and persistent types of bacteria, which current antibiotics have limited action upon.”

At present, alpha peptides have been used to treat antimicrobial resistant bacteria such as MRSA, however, these compounds tend to be unstable or toxic to the human body. This new approach tested by the combined research team demonstrates the use of beta-peptides to combat antimicrobial resistant bacteria. The compound was designed to be stable and degrade slowly in the human body with little toxicity.

“This is a promising new approach to combating antimicrobial resistance that hasn’t been done before,” said Pethe. “The toxicity and proof-of-concept studies have shown that this can be on the drug development pathway as it shows good potency and low toxicity and we look forward to having this developed as a topical drug for humans.”

SMART AMR is also looking to test the polymer for use in curing MRSA-affected livestock, which is a growing global issue. Reports have shown that 50 percent of pig herds in parts of Europe are affected by the antimicrobial resistant bacteria. This innovative approach can potentially be beneficial for farmers and their livestock.

While the next step for the research is to test the polymer on animals infected by MRSA in pig farms, the researchers are also preparing to have the drugs tested in clinical trials for use for the public.

Currently, SMART AMR is looking for potential partners for further development of the antimicrobial polymers, particularly for human use. [APBN]