Disarming the superbugs that resist antibiotics is the Holy Grail in the global fight against a pandemic predicted to kill more people than all cancers combined in the next few decades. New research has found a way to disarm the urinary tract-infecting superbug known as Escherichia coli ST131, rendering it harmless.

Painful urinary tract infections are common, particularly in women, babies, and the elderly. Approximately 50% of women and 5% of men will develop a urinary tract infection in their lifetimes.

“My research has devised a strategy to stop the superbugs by identifying their essential weapons so they can be blocked and left harmless,” said Dr. Sohinee Sarkar, a postdoctoral researcher at Queensland University in Australia. “In this way, we can treat the infection without using antibiotics that can create more and more resistant bacteria.”

E. coli ST131 superbugs have finger-like projections over their surfaces, which help them cling to the urinary-tract walls and not get washed out when urine passes. When E. coli ST131organisms use these fingers to stick to the urinary tract, they can clump together into a biofilm and cause infection. They can also travel to the kidneys and enter the blood.

“I’ve found that if we can stop these ‘sticky fingers’ from working, then the E. coli can’t form the biofilms that cause infections,” Sarkar said. “This is very exciting as drugs that stop these sticky fingers are already being developed. Work by our group and our collaborators have shown that these drugs can treat acute urinary tract infections in laboratory studies.”

Sakar expects that drugs effective against E. coli ST131 will be available sometime within the next 10 years.

Source: Fresh Science; August 3, 2016.

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