Fighting bacterial resistance

La Trobe researchers are identifying new ways to treat antibiotic resistant bacterial infections

Antimicrobial resistance is one of the most serious global health problems, forecast to kill an estimated 10 million people each year by 2050.

Professor Joseph Tucci, the Pharmacy Discipline Lead at La Trobe University, is researching new ways to treat antibiotic resistant bacterial infections.

“We’re losing capacity to treat many bacterial infections. A contributing factor is that there aren’t many new antibiotics developed for use. Another crucial issue is that bacteria are becoming more resistant to antibiotics, which means that our usual treatments for infections are less effective,” he explains.

“This is particularly serious for people with diseases such as periodontitis, diabetic foot ulcers and some cancers, which are worsened by a range of bacteria. For people with diabetic foot ulcers, for example, the growth of bacteria in the wound may eventually lead to amputation of the limb. Similarly, treatments for periodontitis as well as breast and colon cancers are compromised by the presence of bacteria such as Fusobacterium nucleatum.”

Bacteriophages, a type of virus that naturally kill bacteria, are proving a useful weapon in the fight against antimicrobial resistance.

“While antibiotics are effective in killing their intended bacterial targets, they also kill other bacteria in our microbiome. This is not good, as we now understand that our microbiome contributes to our physical and mental health and protects us from dangerous disease-causing bacteria.”

“Bacteriophages, on the other hand, offer precision therapy, and kill only their target bacteria. We have trillions of bacteriophages in our gut, and they do us no harm. They have also evolved with bacteria over billions of years and can kill virulent bacterial strains resistant to antibiotics,” Professor Tucci explains.

In a world-first, Professor Tucci’s team were able to isolate and characterise a lytic bacteriophage against Fusobacterium nucleatum, which worsens outcomes in periodontitis and cancers.

“In our work, we are testing our bacteriophages in models of periodontitis and colon cancers. We are also testing bacteriophages against Staphylococcus aureas in models of diabetic foot ulcer infections.”

“This means we may be able to assist in the treatment of periodontitis, diabetic ulcers and some cancers, reducing the significant morbidity and mortality caused by these chronic diseases.”

Professor Tucci says it is an exciting time for researchers working to combat antimicrobial resistance.

“We are beginning to embrace the concept of bacteriophages for therapy. They have been shown to be useful when used as adjuncts to antibiotics, allowing greater killing of bacteria by antibiotics, at lower doses. This is important, because using antibiotics less, and at lower doses, helps reduce spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.”