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A natural infection alarm system could help combating multi-drug resistant superbugs

Posted June 3, 2019

Scientists are calling drug-resistant bacteria superbugs. Due to people overusing antibiotics, our current measures to address life-threatening infections are running out. Antibiotic resistance is a quickly growing threat to humanity and scientists are racing to find new effective methods to address it. Not scientists from the University of Edinburgh say that fight against superbugs could be aided by a potential therapy based on the body’s natural immune defences.

Bacterial lung infections are a growing threat due to the spread of so-called superbugs. Image credit: Radiology by Dr. Johan Verbeken via Wikimedia

In their new studies scientists focused on lung diseases caused by bacterial infections, which are a major cause of death worldwide. They found that a molecule, called LL-37, which is produced naturally by the body, works a bit like a natural alarm system. It changes the way cells behave when they are invaded by bacteria. This is how body’s immune system is warned about a dangerous invasion and understands that an urgent action is needed. This was actually discovered during previous studies with mice, but latest advancements are leading to new therapies.

Previous studies with mouse models revealed that in bacterial lung infections LL-37 molecule instructs cells in an infected lung to call in specialised cells, known as neutrophils, which are able to attack and neutralize the threat. These studies uncovered the importance of the LL-37 molecule, which is why scientists continued the research with humans. Researchers conducted experiments with human cells and found that LL-37 specifically targets infected cells – in humans too they are working like a fire alarm, calling for neutrophils to come and remove bacterial threats. Influx of LL-37 also causes infected cells to self-destruct, minimizing threat to healthy cells. This slows down the spread of the infection.

Now scientists will look into transforming this new knowledge into new effective treatments. They think that the results of this research could help creating new approaches for multi-drug resistant infections. Dr Donald J. Davidson, one of the authors of the study, said: “Our search for alternative and complementary treatments for antibiotic-resistant infections is becoming ever more urgent. Trying to boost the best of the human body’s effective natural defences, like this, may prove to be an important part of our future solutions”.

Superbugs are very scary. Soon antibiotics may not be effective enough to treat common bacterial infections. This is why scientists are trying to find new methods. Hopefully, this one will prove to be effective against multi-drug resistant infections.


Source: University of Edinburgh

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