Superbug killer may be hiding up your nose

July 28, 2016

As of late, scientists have been searching for a solution to the growing threat of antibiotic resistant bacteria and may have found an answer much closer to home than expected — up our noses.

Researchers from the University of Tubingen in Germany have discovered that a nose-dwelling bacteria, Staphylococcus lugdunensis, produces a chemical called lugdunin. An article explains that this chemical is "bactericidal against major pathogens," and not prone to developing a resistance in the bugs that it kills.

"Despite the urgent need for new antibiotics that are effective against resistant bacteria, very few compounds are in development," the research, published in the scientific journal Nature says.

While antibiotics have been credited with revolutionizing the field of medicine, their use comes at a price. While there are different theories on how exactly it has happened, some pathogens have developed a resistance to important antibiotics, rendering them useless in some cases. This has created "superbugs" like MRSA, or Staphylococcus aureus, both causing life-threatening infections.

So life-threatening that Andreas Peschel, one of the researchers who authored the study, said in the article that he expects within 10 years, more people will die of diseases caused by resistant bacteria than cancer.

"We've come up with a new concept," Peschel said. "It was totally unexpected to find a human-associated bacterium to produce a real antibiotic."

Another article explains that the nose is relatively resource-poor for bacteria, compared to other ecological niches of the human body such as the intestine or stomach. Bacteria trying to colonize the nose are in strong competition with each other for real estate and resources. S. lugdunesis likely evolved the ability to produce lugdunin because it can kill off other nose-dwelling bacteria.

Most antibiotics have been found in soil-living bacteria, but it can be difficult or impossible to get them to work in conditions of the human body. Researchers are most excited by this study because it provides a clear path into a completely new territory in the search for novel antibiotics.

“This is the way we should go with this kind of research,” John Penders, a microbiologist not involved in the study, said.

The researchers discovered lugdunin through a methodology that can be applied beyond the nose, throughout the human microbiome and can be used to find similar weapons to eliminate pathogens.

As for lugdunin itself, the article states the researchers have applied for a patent in order to start negotiating with pharmaceutical companies to develop a drug.

The antibiotic is “at the very beginning,” Peschel said. “Clinical development is a matter of many years and a matter of a lot of money.”

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Category: Toxicology