UCC researchers make breakthrough that could help solve the world's antibiotics crisis

UCC researchers make breakthrough that could help solve the world's antibiotics crisis
Conor Horgan, an Irish Research Council funded postgraduate researcher at University College Cork and Dr Tim O’Sullivan of the Schools of Pharmacy and Chemistry at UCC.Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provsion

A BREAKTHROUGH by researchers in University College Cork (UCC) has the potential to increase the effectiveness of antibiotics and address the issue of resistance to existing antibiotics.

Antimicrobial resistance, where bacteria or an illness is resistant to existing antibiotics, is increasingly becoming an issue for healthcare professionals and patients across the world.

Many bacteria have developed resistance to current antibiotics by producing biofilms which shield the bacteria against the effects of the antibiotic.

The significant threat posed by this resistance to human health has been highlighted by several international bodies, including the World Health Organisation.

However, new molecules, developed by UCC researchers, have been shown to dramatically improve the effectiveness of existing antibiotics against several strains of infectious diseases and will help address the growing problem of resistance to antibiotics.

The molecules developed by UCC interfere with the bacteria’s native communication system and prevent the microbes from producing the shield-like biofilm in the first place.

In this way, the antibiotic is able to treat the infection as normal.

The addition of the new molecules made existing antibiotics 16 times more effective at treating infection.

The research was spearheaded by Dr Tim O’Sullivan who is based in the Schools of Pharmacy and Chemistry at UCC.

His team of Conor Horgan, an Irish Research Council funded postgraduate researcher, and Dr Pavan Kumar, a Marie Sklodowska-Curie postdoctoral fellow, created the new molecules.

“As more microbes develop resistance to current antibiotics, and relatively few new antibiotics are coming to market, we need to identify new ways of dealing with resistant infections,” said Dr O’Sullivan.

“The approach outlined in our work has significant potential.” 

Speaking to The Echo, Dr O’Sullivan explained that the molecule compound developed by his team can be administered with existing antibiotics to increase their effectiveness.

While more research is needed until patients can see the effects, he said that the compound ensures that “illnesses that might have previously been hard to treat can be treated with existing antibiotics once again”.

“This research points to a possible solution to the problem that world health is facing in terms of the growing resistance to antibiotics which is increasing.

“Now, we have shown a way forward to counter that,” added Dr O’Sullivan.

“If the antibiotic was not having an effect previously, the compound ensures it starts working again.

“Equally, this potentially means that the amount of antibiotic administered can be reduced as the compound, combined with a small amount of antibiotic, results in a synergy effect."

Dr O’Sullivan’s team demonstrated the effectiveness of the compound in two particular infections.

“The challenge for us now,” he said, “is to see if there are other types of infections where this approach can be used.

“The more infections you can tackle and broaden out, the better,” he explained.

Dr O’Sullivan said that commercialisation and patenting the compound is the long term goal but it may be some time before that is achieved as there is plenty of research to do before that.

The discovery grew out of an international collaboration with Dr Pol Huedo and microbiologists at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

The study was published in the journal Future Medicinal Chemistry.

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