Yorkshire scientists developing cream that sees off superbugs

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CREAM that can fight off superbugs is being developed by scientists in Yorkshire.

A cream which causes bacteria to slide off the skin could mark a turning point in the fight against superbugs, scientists believe.

The pioneering treatment, which has been tested on laboratory-grown “model” skin, prevents infection without directly killing bacteria and promoting antibiotic resistance.

It could be ready for clinical trials in as little as three years. Bacteria invading a wound or bed sore attach themselves to the skin by hijacking sticky patches on human cells.

The Sheffield University scientists found that proteins called tetraspanins made the patches much less sticky, allowing the bugs to be harmlessly washed away.

Tests of the proteins on the tissue engineered skin model have shown that the therapy is safe and effective, say the researchers.

Further work is expected to produce a cream or gel that can be applied directly to the skin, or more efficient dressings.

Dr Pete Monk, from the university’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Science, said: “This development is a huge breakthrough in the fight against antibiotic-resistance.

“Skin infections, such as bed-sores and ulcers, can be incredibly troubling for patients who may already be dealing with debilitating conditions. They are also a significant problem for modern healthcare.

“We hope that this new therapy can be used to help relieve the burden of skin infections on both patients and health services while also providing a new insight into how we might defeat the threat of antimicrobial drug resistance.

“The therapy could be administered to patients using a gel or cream and could work well as a dressing. We’re hoping it can reach clinical trials stage in the next three to five years.”

The 3D skin model, also developed at the University of Sheffield, mimics the tissue structure of normal adult skin and can be used to simulate infected wounds.

The scientists hope to develop new anti-bacterial dressings derived from tetraspanin proteins that will make it easier to keep wounds sterile and promote more rapid healing.

Their research, funded by the charity Age UK, is reported in the journal Public Library of Science ONE.

Meanwhile, bacteria hidden up people’s noses produce an antibiotic which could herald a new age in the fight against superbugs. The new drug, lugdunin, is made naturally by Staphylococcus lugdunensis, one of a number of different kinds of microbe bedding in alongside people’s nasal hair.

Just under one third of people carry the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus in their noses, which can cause fatal infection if it enters the blood stream and lead to superbug strain methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA). Nine per cent of people naturally carry S. lugdunensis in their noses and were six times less likely to have S. aureus than those without it, nasal swabs from 187 hospital patients showed.

Scientists from the University of Tubingen in Germany have started a screening programme after discovering the “new class of compounds”, in the hope that other antibiotics could be found elsewhere in the body.

New antibiotics are urgently needed as doctors struggle to protect against superbugs. Professor Andreas Peschel from the university said: “Lugdunin may be the first example of such an antibiotic.”