New technology shows potential in fight against antibiotic resistance

Penny Young, ASAP/ASAS Intern 2017

Research from the University of Melbourne has found a polymer that shows promise as a future member of the arsenal against antibiotic resistant bacteria. The team, led by PhD candidate Shu Lam, has found a novel way of targeting bacteria: structurally nanoengineered antimicrobial peptide polymers, otherwise known as SNAPPs. These SNAPPs are especially exciting because they have some advantages over current strategies.

Firstly, the SNAPPs have multiple pathways of action, meaning they should perform better than many types of antibiotics, which often only have one mechanism. It is also hoped this might help to avoid or delay resistance developing in the bacteria. The SNAPP can break or disrupt the cell wall itself, but it is also able to trigger self-destructive pathways in the bacterial cells.

The SNAPP investigated also appears to be very safe, with tests performed on red blood cells finding that toxicity is only reached with a dose over 100 times the effective dosage rate. It seems that the large size of the SNAPP means that it does not target healthy host cells, which makes it a more attractive treatment option for conventional antibiotics which often do have an effect on host cells.

Thus far, the SNAPP tested in the Lam laboratory have been found to be effective against six antibiotic-resistant species of Gram negative bacteria in vitro, and at least one species (Acinetobacter baumannii) in vivo.

While more research is obviously necessary and there is still a long road ahead for this new technology before it becomes widespread in the field, this research may mark something of a paradigm shift in our approach to treating bacterial infections.


Research published in Nature Microbiology.

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