Israeli discovery fights antibiotic resistance by ‘biting bacteria to death’

Israeli scientists have developed a substance that overcomes antibiotic resistance by ‘stinging bacteria to death’, researchers from Ben-Gurion University told The Times of Israel on Friday, in a breakthrough that could help combat a major threat to global health.

The substance contains «nano-needles» that have a lethal effect on bacteria, and will be developed into topical creams and antibacterial coatings for surfaces, the scientists said, noting that it has shown 90% effectiveness in killing antibiotic resistant bacteria under laboratory conditions.

When bacteria stop being affected by antibiotics, it is called antibiotic resistance, and these pathogens are sometimes colloquially referred to as superbugs.

The World Health Organization considers this phenomenon «one of the greatest threats to global health».

Because antibiotics work by interfering with specific functions of bacteria, researchers at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba decided to try a different approach: physically destroying the bacteria.

«Most antibiotics used today work by affecting functions inside the bacteria, but our solution instead attacks the outside of the pathogen,» Nofar Yehuda, one of the researchers, told The Times. of Israel. «Our solution is a material of tiny ‘nano-needles’ that essentially sting bacteria to death.»

The bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa, known for its resistance to antibiotics (Christoph Burgstedt via iStock by Getty Images)

She described the process in more scientific language in peer-reviewed research, written with Ben Gurion professors Shoshana Arad, Ariel Kushmaro and Levi Ghebe and published in December.

They wrote that the results of the laboratory research «clearly indicate a direct effect of the spikes – via membrane disruption – on bacteria, which resulted in cell death.»

Nofar Yehuda, PhD student at Ben Gurion University (courtesy of Nofar Yehuda)

Ben-Gurion University’s technology transfer company has patented the substance and hopes to commercialize it.

The key ingredient is polysaccharides – long chains of carbohydrate molecules – derived from seaweed. They created the new substance by mixing the polysaccharides with tiny copper particles.

«When we create the mixture, it creates a topography of ‘nano-needles’ that are only a micron high,» said Yehuda, who is in the final year of her PhD. studies. “They punch holes in the membranes of bacteria, pushing out their insides and killing them.

“As it works in a physical way – by physically harming bacteria – it will not be prone to antibiotic resistance. This is important research given that there is a great deal of research going on for substances that overcome antibiotic resistance.

A study published last year by the medical journal Lancet estimated that in 2019 more than 1.2 million people died from antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections and noting that this accounted for more deaths than those caused by major global health threats such as HIV/AIDS or malaria.

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