Science 3 min read

Researchers Discover New Method to Kill Antibiotic-Resistant Pathogens

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Researchers at Nagoya University in Japan have devised a smart new strategy to kill antibiotic-resistant pathogens. It involves hijacking the haem-acquisition system – an essential element for the bacterium‘s survival.

According to the World Health Organization, Pseudomonas aeruginosa is one of the most critical pathogens which requires alternative treatment. And that’s not surprising.

Infections caused by the bacterium P. aeruginosa is a real concern in hospital settings. This is especially true when the patient involved is critically ill and has an impaired immune system.

The strains of the pathogens are highly resistant to antibiotic treatment, which makes it challenging to treat. As a result, it has become a deadly issue, causing about 51,000 health care infections per year in the United States.

For years, researchers have been pursuing various approaches which range from killing to disarming the pathogen. But, a team of Japanese researchers may have devised the most ingenious strategy yet; cut off its iron supply.

How Pathogens Collect Iron From the Human Body

Bacteria need iron to grow and survive. In the human body, “haem” complex of hemoglobin is responsible for storing this valuable element, which makes it difficult for some bacteria to access.

But not all pathogens have that difficulty. Many bacteria, including P. aeruginosa, have an evolved system which enables easy acquisition of iron from the human body.

The bacteria secrete a protein called HasA, which attaches to the haem in the blood. On recognizing the complex, the membrane receptor on the microbe, the HasR, lets the haem enter the bacterial cell. The HasA, on the other hand, is recycled to pick up more haem.

With this knowledge, Bioinorganic chemist Osami Shoji and colleagues devised a way to hijack the “haem acquisition system” for drug delivery.

Cutting Off a Bacterium’s Access to Iron

The researchers developed a HasA in powder form, including the pigment gallium phthalocyanine (GaPc) for a culture of P.aeruginosa to consume. On exposure to near-infrared light, the researchers noted that the pigment generated harmful reactive oxygen species inside the bacterial cells.

Shoji noted:

“When tested, over 99.99% of the bacteria were killed following treatment with one micro-molar of HasA with GaPc and ten minutes of irradiation.”

Like in the P. aeruginosa, the strategy was effective against other bacteria with HasR receptor on their membranes. However, it didn’t work on microbes without the complex.

Since iron is essential to these bacteria’s survival, the researchers think resistance to the new drug strategy is unlikely. In other words, we may not need a new treatment for P. aeruginosa infections any time soon.

Read More: New Class of Powerful Antibiotics From Soil Bacteria

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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