Researchers from the University of Sheffield and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), led by Professor Jim Thomas of the former institution‘s Department of Chemistry, are currently testing new compounds – developed by PhD student Kirsty Smitten – capable of killing gram-negative bacteria, including pathogenic E. coli.
“Taken together, these results have identified a lead molecular architecture for hard-to-treat, multi-resistant, Gram-negative bacteria, which displays activities that are already comparable to optimized natural product-based leads,” wrote the researchers in an article published in the journal ACS Nano.
With antibiotic-resistant germs already causing the deaths of approximately 25,000 people in the European Union (EU) each year, methods for addressing the growing trend are fast becoming one of the most sought-after developments in all of modern science.
Current estimates hold that failing to engineer a decisive solution in the coming years and decades could result in the above figure multiplying by up to 400 times over and reaching 10 million annual deaths in the EU alone.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) had already classified treatments for gram-negative bacteria as ‘Priority 1 Critical’, as they are known to cause infections with high death rates, rapidly develop resistance to all current methods of treatment, and tend to spread in hospitals.
What makes the current predicament even grimmer is the fact that during the past half a century medical science has not come up with any new treatments for ailments caused by gram-negative bacteria. Furthermore, the last clinical trials involving promising new drugs have fizzled out way back in 2010.
However, if Professor Thomas is to be believed, things could finally start moving again: “As the compound is luminescent, it glows when exposed to light. This means the uptake and effect of bacteria can be followed by the advanced microscope techniques available at RAL”.
Tests conducted on the compound to date indicate its potentially multi-faceted course of action, which could make it more difficult for resistance to emerge in the bacteria. Future plans of the research team now include further testing of the compound on other resistant pathogenic bacteria.