Aust nuclear scientists fight superbugs

·2-min read

Antibiotics aren't enough to keep superbugs at bay anymore but an Australian research team is trying to combat resistant bacteria using nuclear technology.

The World Health Organisation has declared antimicrobial resistance one of the top 10 global health threats facing humanity and says overuse of antibiotics is the main driver of drug-resistant superbugs.

Some bacteria are hard to treat because they are surrounded by an outer membrane that acts as a barrier preventing antibiotics from reaching their targets inside the bacteria.

Scientists from Monash University, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and CSIRO have published a study in the journal Nature Communications into how a new treatment interacted with the bacterial outer membrane.

Using nanoparticle technology, the researchers are harnessing cubosomes, which are liquid crystalline particles, as potential new vehicles for drug delivery to reach and target bacteria.

A class of antibiotics drugs called polymyxins, which break up that outer membrane and themselves are relatively toxic, are used as a last-line therapy.

"We were looking at new approaches for delivering antibiotics to an infection site and found the cubosome - the delivery vehicle itself - has antimicrobial properties when binding to the surface of bacteria," ANSTO researcher Anton Le Brun said.

They used a beamline instrument called a neutron reflectometer to see how cubosomes interact with the bacteria's surface.

"Essentially, the polymyxin drug is the hitchhiker and the cubosome is the vehicle and in testing together they were more effectively able to crash through the outer barrier of the bacteria," Mr Le Brun said.

Even though it's early days and the scientists are in testing mode, they believe the use of nanoparticles-antibiotics combination therapy could in the long run wean people off taking many antibiotics at the same time.

The next step for scientists will be to consider which properties of the cubosome give them an antibiotic effect, and how they can be leveraged to deliver treatments.

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