Scientists at the University of Birmingham have made a significant breakthrough in the battle against hospital superbug MRSA.
Working with academics at Bristol University, they have discovered a way to produce a potent chemical that can kill drug-resistant strains of the Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus bacteria.
The findings now pave the way for the creation of a new hybrid antibiotic, which could save lives and eradicate the growing problems of bacterial infections resistant to all traditional forms of antibiotics.
It comes as the World Health Organisation warned that a global spread of germs resistant to antibiotics was a “nightmare scenario” as there were less than a handful of antibiotics in the pipeline to combat these bugs.
A team of microbial geneticists from Birmingham led by Professor Chris Thomas and chemists from Bristol discovered that a mutant form of marine bacteria could be used to join together two forms of antibiotics to create the chemical that stops the growth of strains of the most indestructable form of MRSA.
Prof Thomas believes the work could also enhance treatment for other dangerous bugs such as E.coli.
“This shows how mupirocin can be modified to make it more potent and suggests that related molecules could be used against the increasingly problematic Enterobacteriacae,” said Prof Thomas, who added that, by using mutant strains, the team was able to feed alternative compounds to the bacteria so a family of novel molecules was created.
The project was made possible by working with Japanese pharmaceutical company Daiichi-Sankyo and with funding from the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The research is being published online in the journal PLoS ONE.
MRSA rates across the West Midlands and UK as a whole have reduced significantly over the past three years but the death toll is still high.
The super bug claimed the lives of 440 patients in the region in 2009, latest figures from the Office for National Statistics showed in August.
That was a 43 per cent fall in deaths from the previous year when MRSA was responsible for 771 lives.
World Health Organisation experts are concerned though that the abuse of antibiotics for humans and in the food chain was fostering the emergence of antibiotic resistance and threatening to take the world to an era before the discovery of penicillin in the 1920s.
The warning comes as the Health Protection Agency also revealed it had recorded 88 cases of new Indian “indestructible” bacteria NDM-1 – short for New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamose – in the UK, of which at least two were discovered in Birmingham.