Antibiotic resistance is a confusing topic. Let’s begin with the fact that bacteria, not humans or other animals, that become antibiotic resistant.

When antibiotic-resistant bacteria infect humans and animals, those infections are harder or even impossible to treat because the bacteria are antibiotic resistant. The World Health Organization says antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to human health around the globe.

Antibiotic resistance is making it more challenging to treat a growing number of infections – including pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhea and many foodborne infections from Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria and other pathogens.

At a minimum, antibiotic resistance means more extended hospital stays, higher medical costs, and more deaths. Unless current trends are reversed, it is estimated that antibiotic-resistant infections will cause 10 million deaths a year by 2050.

That’s why a new killer compound discovered by researchers at the University of Sheffield and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) is good news because it targets antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

According to a May 26 report in Science Daily, the Sheffield RAL team led by Department of Chemistry Professor Jim Thomas is testing the new compounds developed by his Ph.D. student Kirsty Smitten. They involve antibiotic-resistant gram-negative bacteria, including pathogenic E. coli.

Gram-negative strains can cause infections, including pneumonia, urinary tract, and bloodstream infections. Those are difficult to treat because the cell wall of the bacteria prevent medications from entering the microbes.

It’s been 50 years since there were new treatments for such infections, and there have been no new clinical trials since 2010, making the new drug compound a welcomed development.

“As the compound is luminescent it glows when exposed to light,” explains Thomas. “This means the uptake and effect on bacteria can be followed by the advanced microscope techniques available at RAL.”

Thomas says the work is a “breakthrough” that “could lead to vital new treatments to life-threating superbugs and the growing risk posed by antimicrobial resistance.”

The research was published in the journal ACS Nano. It says the new compound kills gram-negative E. coli, including the multi-drug resistant pathogen responsible for millions of antibiotic-resistant inflections.

WHO put gram-negative bacteria at the top of its priority list, urgently requiring new treatments due to the worldwide antibiotic-resistance crisis. These infections are increasingly resistant to treatments and contributing to high death rates.

Antimicrobial resistance is currently causing 25,000 deaths per year in the European Union, slightly more than the 23,000 in the United States.

The Sheffield-RAL compound is said to have several modes of action, making it more difficult for resistance to develop in the bacteria. In the next phase of the research, it will be tested against other multi-resistant bacteria.

Meanwhile, the WHO’s drug-resistance policy to prevent and control the spread of antibiotic resistance urges countries to:

  • Ensure a robust national action plan to tackle antibiotic resistance is in place.
  • Improve surveillance of antibiotic-resistant infections.
  • Strengthen policies, programs, and implementation of infection prevention and control measures.
  • Regulate and promote the appropriate use and disposal of quality medicines.
  • Make information available on the impact of antibiotic resistance.

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