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University of Adelaide is fighting antibiotic-resistant superbugs by starving them of iron

Published on 06/03/18 at 10:49am
Image credit: Russell Millard/University of Adelaide

A team of researchers from Australia’s University of Adelaide have developed a new method to fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria by starving it of iron, the fuel it needs grow and threaten human health.

Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are a major cause for concern in the scientific and healthcare communities, presenting a threat that proves impervious to current attempts to fight them. They are responsible for around 700,000 deaths a year worldwide and the World Health Organization forecasts that this number will rise to 10 million by 2050 if suitable interventions are not found.

Researcher Dr Katharina Richter (pictured) explained: “Iron is like chocolate for bacteria. It gives them energy to grow, cause disease, and withstand attacks from our immune systems and antibiotics. Using two different compounds, we first starve the bacteria of iron and then feed them the bacterial equivalent of poisonous chocolate, which the hungry bacteria find irresistible.”

“This ‘double whammy’ approach has defeated superbugs like golden staph in laboratory and animal studies,” she added. “The treatment is locally applied at the infection site, precisely where it is needed without interfering with the entire body.”

Dr Richter notes that bacteria are unlikely to become resistant to their main fuel source, so the risk for developing resistance is low. The therapy is currently being trialled at Adelaide’s The Queen Elizabeth Hospital as a treatment for antibiotic-resistant sinus infections. The team is now in the process of recruiting patients with chronic recurring sinus infections to trial the therapy in the hopes of expanding its applications to fight other superbugs.

Matt Fellows

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