The war against superbugs

17 July 2013

Scientists have recognised the need to find alternatives to commonly prescribed antibiotics for decades. But it is only since the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that this need has become urgent. The evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or ‘superbugs’ as they are often called, is one of the biggest global health concerns of the 21st century. Drug resistance is now a feature of many bacteria, from strains of Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as Golden Staph, and the pneumonia causing Klebsiella pneumoniae, to Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Many bacteria are opportunistic. They can cause a wide range of nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections. These infections are associated with the formation of bacterial biofilm on surfaces such as wounds, medical equipment such as catheters, and on artificial implants such as pace makers and artificial joints.

Antimicrobial peptides are promising alternatives to traditional antibiotics. These host defence peptides are a part of the innate immune response of all classes of life, from humans to insects. Their potential as new therapeutics lies in the fact that they are broad-spectrum. They do not target specific proteins on the bacterial cell wall but instead can kill bacteria by damaging the bacterial cell membranes.

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