Scientists Are Freaking Out Over This 25-Year-Old's Solution to Superbugs
After three years of research, a Ph.D. student at the University of Melbourne may have discovered a way to kill superbugs without the use of antibiotics.
Shu Lam believes that she has found the key to averting a health crisis so severe that the United Nations recently declared it a "fundamental threat" to global health.
Antibiotic-resistant superbugs kill about 170,000 people a year and, according to a British study, are estimated to kill up to 10 million people a year by 2050 and cost the world economy $100 trillion.
"If we fail to address this problem quickly and comprehensively, antimicrobial resistance will make providing high-quality universal healthcare coverage more difficult if not impossible," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told The Guardian. "It will undermine sustainable food production. And it will put the sustainable development goals in jeopardy."
The Superbug Doctors Have Been Dreading Is Now in the U.S. https://t.co/9tC6PHkO5l @greenpeaceusa @Sierra_Magazine— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1464903924.0
In what is being hailed by scientists in the field as "a breakthrough that could change the face of modern medicine," Lam and her team developed a star-shaped peptide polymer that targets the resistant superbugs, rips apart their cell walls and kills them.
"These star polymers screw up the way bacteria survives," Lam told VICE. "Bacteria need to divide and grow but when our star is attached to the membrane it interferes with these processes. This puts a lot of stress on the bacteria and it initiates a process to kill itself from stress."
A bacterium cell before (left) and after being treated by the star-shaped polymers. University of Melbourne
Lam told The Telegraph the polymers have been effective in treating mice infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria and are relatively non-toxic to the healthy cells in the body. The reduction in toxicity is because of the larger size of the polymers which make them too big to enter healthy cells.
Lam's findings were recently published in the Nature Microbiology journal and while the results are promising in the lab and on mice, she said there is still a long way to go.
"We still need to do a lot of studies and a lot of tests—for example, to see whether these polymers have any side effects on our bodies," she explained to Vice. "We need a lot of detailed assessments like that, [but] they could hopefully be implemented in the near future."
Professor Greg Qiao, her Ph.D. supervisor, told The Telegraph they will need at least five more years to fully develop her project unless millions of dollars are invested into speeding up the process.
However, "The really good news about this is that, at the moment, if you have a superbug and you run out of antibiotics, there's not much you can do. At least you can do something now," he said.
So what would the star polymer treatment look like in the future? As Lam explained in an interview with VICE:
"The quickest way to make this available to the public is through topical application, simply because you go through less procedures as opposed to ingesting these molecules into the body. So when you have a wound or a bacterial infection on the wound then you [generally] apply some sort of antibacterial cream.
"The star polymers could potentially become one of the anti-bacterial ingredients in this cream. Ultimately, we hope that what we're discovering here could replace antibiotics. In other words, we also hope that we will be able to inject this into the body to treat serious infections, or even to disperse it in the form of a pill which patients can take, just like somebody would take an antibiotic."
- Construction Begins on Keystone XL Pipeline in Montana - EcoWatch ›
- Trump Approves Keystone XL Pipeline, Groups Vow 'The Fight Is ... ›
- Keystone XL Pipeline Construction to Forge Ahead During ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Monir Ghaedi
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep most of Europe on pause, the EU aims for a breakthrough in its space program. The continent is seeking more than just a self-sufficient space industry competitive with China and the U.S.; the industry must also fit into the European Green Deal.
European satellites continue to provide data on climate change.
In 2018, a team of researchers went to West Africa's Nimba Mountains in search of one critically endangered species of bat. Along the way, they ended up discovering another.
- Eek! Bat Populations Are Shrinking. Here Are A Few Ways to Help ... ›
- First Bat Removed From U.S. Endangered Species List Helps ... ›
- What We've Lost: The Species Declared Extinct in 2020 - EcoWatch ›
By Jim Palardy
As 2021 dawns, people, ecosystems, and wildlife worldwide are facing a panoply of environmental issues. In an effort to help experts and policymakers determine where they might focus research, a panel of 25 scientists and practitioners — including me — from around the globe held discussions in the fall to identify emerging issues that deserve increased attention.
Ask a Scientist: What Should the Biden Administration and Congress Do to Address the Climate Crisis?
By Elliott Negin
What a difference an election makes. Thanks to the Biden-Harris victory in November, the next administration is poised to make a 180-degree turn to again address the climate crisis.
- Biden Reaffirms Commitment to Rejoining Paris Agreement ... ›
- Joe Biden Appoints Climate Crisis Team - EcoWatch ›
- Biden Plans to Fight Climate Change in a New Way - EcoWatch ›