Major breakthrough in war against superbugs

Major breakthrough in war against superbugs
Conor Horgan, an Irish Research Council funded postgraduate researcher at UCC, and Dr Tim O’Sullivan of the Schools of Pharmacy and Chemistry. Picture: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provsion.

A huge breakthrough has been made in the fight against killer superbugs.

Researchers led by Dr Tim O’Sullivan at University College Cork found a way to disrupt the resistance mechanisms of bacteria.

Their discovery, published in the journal Future Medicinal Chemistry, makes previously fatal infections easily treatable.

Many bacteria have developed resistance to current antibiotics by producing biofilms that shield the bacteria against the effects of the antibiotic.

The significant threat posed by resistant microbes to human health has been highlighted by several international bodies.

Molecules developed by Dr O’Sullivan and his team interfere with the bacteria’s communication system, preventing them from producing the biofilm. The addition of the molecules makes existing antibiotics 16 times more effective.

Dr O’Sullivan said the molecules confuse the bacteria and prevent them from launching their standard resistance countermeasures.

As more microbes develop resistance to current antibiotics, and relatively few new antibiotics are coming to market, we need to identify new ways of dealing with resistant infections The approach outlined in our work has significant potential.

Dr O’Sullivan, with Conor Horgan, an Irish Research Council-funded postgraduate researcher, and Dr Pavan Kumar, a Marie Sklodowska-Curie postdoctoral fellow, created the molecules.

Their discovery grew out of an international collaboration with Dr Pol Huedo and microbiologists at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain.

The team is now researching ways of further improving their new molecules and identifying additional strains of bacteria as potential targets. The new molecules could offer a new lease of life to both existing antibiotics and to antibiotics that have fallen out of use.

However, the development of a new treatment is some way off, said Dr O’Sullivan.

“It tends to be a slow and expensive process – you are talking about at least 15 to 20 years before anything would see the light of day.”


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