Antibiotic resistance: Skin infection prevention treatment helps battle 'superbugs'

Researchers from the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom have discovered a pioneering method to prevent skin wounds such as bedsores and ulcers from becoming infected, thus preventing "superbugs" like MRSA taking hold.

"Superbug" is a term invented by the media to describe bacteria that cannot be killed using multiple antibiotics. These bacteria are "antibiotic resistant" and have proven particularly problematic in healthcare settings where they increase the risk of worse clinical outcomes and death.

Also, bacterial skin infections are a major problem for older people and people with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes. Infected wounds heal more slowly, causing pain and distress for the patient. To launch an infection, bacteria attach tightly to skin cells and have learned to hijack ‘sticky patches’ on human cells to achieve this. Using proteins called tetraspanins, from human cells, the Sheffield scientists have made these patches much less sticky, allowing bacteria to be harmlessly washed away. This new treatment has been proven to work on antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as MRSA, which is currently one of the biggest threats to global healthcare and medicine.

The research was trialed in a human model of 3D tissue engineered skin and showed that the proteins prevented bacterial infections, and indicated that the treatment was both safe and effective for use in humans.

The engineered skin, pioneered by Professor Sheila MacNeil from the University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, can model infected wounds in human skin and mimics the tissue structure of normal adult skin. It can be used to analyst the penetration of peptides and bacteria.

“Skin infections, such as bed-sores and ulcers, can be incredibly troubling for patients who may already be dealing with other debilitating conditions. They are also a significant problem for modern healthcare. We hope that this new therapy can be used to help relieve the burden of skin infections on both patients and health services while also providing a new insight into how we might defeat the threat of antimicrobial drug resistance. The therapy could be administered to patients using a gel or cream and could work well as a dressing. We’re hoping it can reach clinical trials stage in the next three to five years.” Said Dr Pete Monk from the University’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease, who led the study.

Now, with substantial research funding from the Humane Research Trust, Sheffield scientists are developing the proteins for new anti-bacterial dressings that will help keep wounds sterile and so promote more rapid healing.

This development further cements the University’s position at the forefront of world-class research into infectious diseases. Sheffield scientists are developing radical solutions to global problems of disease and antimicrobial resistance as part of projects including Florey and Imagine. These are signature research projects addressing some of the world’s biggest biomedical problems.

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