QUB scientists’ breakthrough against deadly superbugs

Queen's University, Belfast. Picture: Diane Magill

Queen's University, Belfast. Picture: Diane Magill

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Scientists in Northern Ireland have made a breakthrough in the fight against a hospital superbug which killed four babies.

Pseudomonas bacteria can grow deep inside the body in medical implants like hip replacements and are highly resistant to treatment.

The colonies produce a jelly-like substance called a biofilm which is almost impossible for current antibiotics to penetrate.

Dr Garry Laverty from Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) said an innovative antibacterial gel could provide an alternative to removing infected implants and causing further pain and discomfort.

“Our gels are unique as they target and kill the most resistant forms of hospital superbugs.”

He added: “This is further evidence of Queen’s research advancing knowledge and changing lives.”

It involves the use of gels composed of the building blocks of natural proteins, called peptides, the same ingredients that form human tissue. Molecules are modified to allow them to form gels which rapidly kill bacteria.

The gel acts against pseudomonas, staphylococci and E. coli using the natural proteins.

The new approach by researchers, which was developed as part of an international collaboration between the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s and the School of Chemistry at Brandeis University, Waltham, USA, is published in the journal Biomacromolecules next month.

Four babies died from pseudomonas at two Northern Ireland hospitals between December 2011 and January 2012.

Caolan Burke was born at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry in December 2011 but died there 10 days later after contracting pseudomonas.

The following month, three more babies died from the infection at Belfast’s Royal Jubilee Maternity Unit.

In 2012, the deaths were investigated by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), which linked the bug to water from contaminated taps in hospital neonatal units.