A new treatment to protect hospital patients against a lethal superbug could save thousands of lives.
Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast have found a new way of tackling Klebsiella, a potentially deadly bug which causes bladder infections and pneumonia.
The treatment, the culmination of four years’ work, uses a molecule called an inhibitor to stop the antibiotic resistant bug from blocking the body’s natural defences.
Professor Jose Bengoechea, from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s, said: “This is really very exciting.
“We have been able to develop a potentially ground-breaking new therapy that will block the bug and stop it in its tracks.”
Klebsiella infections commonly occur among sick patients who are receiving treatment for other conditions.
People who require ventilators, catheters or who are taking long courses of some antibiotics are most at risk and mortality rates range from 25 per cent to 60 per cent.
Researchers were able to establish that Klebsiella could survive inside white blood cells called macrophages which are meant to protect the human body from infection.
The superbug takes over a protein in the blood cell called Akt, paralysing the cell and making it the perfect shelter to avoid being killed by antibiotics.
But they found that treating the cell with the inhibitor - which stops Akt protein from working - the blood cell was once again capable of killing Klebsiella and the infection could be completely eliminated.
Professor Bengoechea, who led the team of 10 at Queen’s, said: “The global problem of antimicrobial resistance is fast becoming one of the major health issues of modern times.
“Of particular concern is the mounting prevalence of infections caused by Klebsiella pneumonia which has been identified as an urgent threat to human health by the UK government and the World Health Organisation due to extremely drug resistant strains.
“Our research has helped us gain a better understanding of the vulnerable pathways of human defences.”
Pre-clinical trials are expected to be carried out over the next few months before the therapy is tested on humans.