Star-Shaped Peptide Polymers Kill Superbugs

Antibacterial resistance poses an enormous threat to the ability to treat common diseases. It occurs when bacteria develop genetic mutations that render antibiotic drugs ineffective, resulting in prolonged hospital stays and high mortality rates. Multi-drug resistant (MDR) bacteria, also known as superbugs, are urgent threats to global health due to a lack of effective treatment. Thus, many research labs are tasked with finding novel drugs that can combat MDR bacteria.

A recent study conducted at the University of Melbourne has led to the development of Structurally Nanoengineered Antimicrobial Peptide Polymers (SNAPPs), which exhibit antibacterial properties while being non-toxic to the body. The polymers are shown to be highly effective against all tested gram-negative pathogens, including those that demonstrate resistance to other antibiotics. SNAPPs are capable of killing gram-negative bacteria both in vivo and in vitro. Analyses using microscopy and bioassay techniques have shown that the polymer works through multiple pathways, including destruction of bacterial cell membranes, dysregulation of ion movement across cytoplasmic membranes, and induction of cell death. The various bactericidal mechanisms of the polymer makes it more difficult for bacteria to develop resistance to it. Furthermore, experiments on red-blood cells show that the dosage needs to be increased 100 times relative to the standard for the substance to be toxic, making it safe for use.

SNAPPs have yet to be incorporated into a commercially viable drug as they have not been tested on humans and currently lack specificity towards certain types of bacteria. However, SNAPPs’ pre-clinical success presents new possibilities for targeting MDR bacteria.

By Eva Liu

References found in journal. 

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