Superbugs losing to HKU research team

Local | Riley Chan 9 Feb 2018

What is rated an incredible breakthrough has seen the University of Hong Kong's science faculty and medical school develop a drug to paralyze multi-resistant superbugs.

The drug allows dosages of antibiotics to be reduced by 90 percent to attain the same level of effectiveness.

Drug-resistant infections kill around 700,000 people worldwide each year.

The most common treatment for infections includes increasing an antibiotic dose or using a combination therapy of two or more antibiotics, but the consequences of such approaches can lead to even stronger superbugs.

A research team led by Sun Hongzhe of the department of chemistry and Richard Kao Yi-Tsun of the department of microbiology discovered that a common drug used to treat Helicobacter pylori-related ulcers could effectively paralyze multiresistant superbugs that can cause deadly infections such as bacteremia, pneumonia and wound infections.

The drug, colloidal bismuth subcitrate, can also significantly suppress the development of antibiotic resistance, allowing the lifespan of currently-used antibiotics to be extended.

One of the three most dangerous superbugs on the World Health Organization's list of critical needs for new antibiotics is CRE - carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, which resists almost all clinically available antibiotics and spreads easily through person-to-person contact. If sepsis occurs, the death rate can be as high as 50 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control in the United States.

The researchers found their colloidal bismuth subcitrate can be a potent inhibitor of NDM-1, one of the leading resistant determinants that demonizes common bacteria into CRE superbugs. This enzyme inhabits bacteria and arms them to be resistant to almost all commonly used beta-lactam antibiotics, including "last resort" carbapenems.

Through tests on mice the team revealed CBS can tame the superbug, reducing it to a strain that can be easily killed by commonly-used carbapenem antibiotics.

The research team is now testing CBS-based therapy on other lab animals and on conditions like urinary tract infections, with members optimistic it will soon be ready for human clinical trials.

The findings were published in Nature Communications in January, and a patent has been filed in the United States.

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