Scientists are a step closer to finding a cure for MRSA, experts said today.
Researchers have developed a pioneering method to identify specific proteins which could be used to combat antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
Their findings have been hailed as a significant step in the fight against deadly infections.
Lytic enzymes, which attack bacteria, have already been singled out as a potential solution but until now their potential to destroy harmful cells has been calculated on a largely ad-hoc basis.
Now scientists have found a way to pinpoint the proteins – naturally present in viruses and in body fluids such as tears, saliva and mucus – with the optimum characteristics for killing bacteria.
Unlike antibiotics, most lytic enzymes kill only a limited range of bacteria which allows researchers to target superbugs while leaving surrounding tissue intact.
Joshua Weitz and Gabriel Mitchell, quantitative biologists at the Georgia Institute of Technology, teamed up with Daniel Nelson, a biochemist from the University of Maryland, to identify the bacteria-killing characteristics of lytic enzymes.
The experts were able to determine, on a microscopic scale, the rate at which they pierce cell walls.
This can be fatal to bacteria because of their internal pressure – the piercing is analogous to removing the wire on a shaken-up bottle of champagne.
Writing in the journal Physical Biology, published tomorrow, the researchers said: “We believe we have taken the first step down a road which will allow us to identify more enzymes, choose those with the best activity, and engineer even higher activity, to develop an effective therapy against a wide range of dangerous superbugs.”
They hope their findings will result in “push-button technology” to hasten the development of engineered enzymes for clinical use.
The superbug MRSA – methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus – is usually spread by touch and commonly occurs among people who are already in hospital where they are more vulnerable to infection.
With increasing use of antibiotics, new strains of MRSA have developed.
Physical Biology is published by the Institute of Physics.