Innovative Antibiotic Breakthrough – Scientists Develop New Compound to Address Antimicrobial Resistance

by Klaus Müller
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Antimicrobial Resistance Solution

Researchers at Maynooth University have unveiled a groundbreaking discovery—a novel compound aimed at combating drug-resistant bacteria.

An international team, which includes scientists from Maynooth University, has successfully created a unique molecule with the potential to combat drug-resistant bacteria.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a concerning phenomenon where bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites adapt over time, rendering medications ineffective. This resistance complicates the treatment of infections, increasing the risk of prolonged illnesses and fatalities. Given the ominous projection that traditional antibiotics could lose their efficacy by 2050 due to the surging levels of AMR, finding innovative methods to eliminate bacteria has become an urgent scientific imperative.

Harnessing the Power of Supramolecular Chemistry to Combat AMR

This breakthrough research is founded on the principles of supramolecular chemistry, a specialized scientific discipline that investigates interactions between molecules. Crucially, this study has identified molecules capable of effectively eliminating bacteria while displaying minimal toxicity to healthy human cells.

The details of this pioneering research are featured in the esteemed journal “Chem” to coincide with World AMR Awareness Week, which takes place from November 18th to 24th. This global initiative, led by the World Health Organization, seeks to enhance awareness and comprehension of AMR, with the aim of curbing the emergence and spread of drug-resistant infections.

In 2019, more than 1.2 million individuals, and potentially many more, lost their lives directly due to antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. This research could potentially pave the way for fresh strategies to address this crisis, which claims more lives annually than HIV/AIDS or malaria.

Luke Brennan, the lead researcher from Maynooth University’s Department of Chemistry, stated, “We are uncovering new molecules and examining their binding to anions, which are negatively charged chemicals of paramount importance in the context of biochemical processes in living organisms. We are laying the fundamental groundwork that could prove valuable in combating various diseases, from cancer to cystic fibrosis.”

A ‘Trojan Horse’ Approach to Combat Resistant Bacteria

This innovative work hinges on the utilization of synthetic ion transporters, marking the first instance where researchers have demonstrated that an influx of salt (sodium and chloride ions) into bacteria can trigger a sequence of biochemical events leading to the demise of bacterial cells—even in strains resistant to presently available antibiotics like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Dr. Robert Elmes, a co-author of the study from Maynooth University’s Kathleen Lonsdale Institute for Human Health Research, explained, “Our approach employs a kind of ‘Trojan horse’ that causes an influx of salt into cells, effectively exterminating resistant bacteria in a manner that counters established bacterial resistance mechanisms.”

Bacteria diligently maintain a stable concentration of ions within their cell membranes, and any disruption of this delicate equilibrium disrupts normal cell function, ultimately leading to cell death.

Elmes continued, “These synthetic molecules bind to chloride ions and encapsulate them in a ‘fatty envelope,’ facilitating their easy dissolution into bacterial membranes, thereby disrupting the normal ionic balance. This work exemplifies how fundamental knowledge in chemistry can address unmet needs in human health research.”

Professor Kevin Kavanagh, a microbiologist in Maynooth University’s Department of Biology, remarked, “The escalating incidence of infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria is a grave concern. This work exemplifies the collaboration between chemists and biologists in pioneering the development of new antimicrobial agents with promising future prospects.”

These results lay the foundation for the potential development of anion transporters as a viable alternative to currently available antibiotics, an urgent necessity as the challenge of AMR continues to grow.

Reference: “Potent antimicrobial effect induced by disruption of chloride homeostasis” by Luke E. Brennan, Lokesh K. Kumawat, Magdalena E. Piatek, Airlie J. Kinross, Daniel A. McNaughton, Luke Marchetti, Conor Geraghty, Conor Wynne, Hua Tong, Oisín N. Kavanagh, Finbarr O’Sullivan, Chris S. Hawes, Philip A. Gale, Kevin Kavanagh, and Robert B.P. Elmes, 23 August 2023, Chem.
DOI: 10.1016/j.chempr.2023.07.014

This research is supported by Science Foundation Ireland’s Research Centre for Pharmaceuticals (SSPC) and the Irish Research Council (IRC).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Antimicrobial Resistance Solution

What is antimicrobial resistance (AMR)?

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a phenomenon where bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites evolve over time, becoming immune to medications. This resistance makes infections more difficult to cure, increasing the risk of prolonged illness and mortality.

How does this research combat AMR?

The researchers have developed a novel molecule using supramolecular chemistry. This molecule can effectively kill drug-resistant bacteria while displaying low toxicity to healthy human cells.

Why is this research significant?

With the potential loss of effectiveness of conventional antibiotics by 2050 due to rising AMR levels, finding new ways to combat drug-resistant bacteria is crucial for public health.

How does the “Trojan Horse” approach work?

The “Trojan Horse” approach involves introducing an influx of salt (sodium and chloride ions) into bacteria. This disrupts the delicate ionic balance within bacterial cells, leading to their demise, even in strains resistant to existing antibiotics.

What are the implications of this research?

This work lays the groundwork for the development of anion transporters as a promising alternative to current antibiotics, addressing the urgent challenge of antimicrobial resistance.

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