Washington: Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Vaccine Research (CVR) have pioneered what is far more effective than traditional antibiotics at inhibiting the growth of multidrug-resistant bacteria.
Resistant to almost all existing antibiotics, "superbugs" plague hospitals and nursing homes.
The new findings, funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), provide a much needed boost to the field of antibiotic development, which has been outpaced in the last four decades due to the rise of drug-resistant bacterial strains.
"It is critical that we move forward with development of new defenses against the drug-resistant bacteria that threaten the lives of our most vulnerable patients," said senior author Ronald C. Montelaro, professor and co-director of Pitt's CVR.
On the tail end of HIV surface protein, there is a sequence of amino acids that the virus uses to "punch into" and infect cells.
Montelaro and his colleagues developed a more efficient version of this sequence called engineered cationic antimicrobial peptides or "eCAPs" that can be chemically synthesised in the lab.
The team tested the two leading eCAPs against a natural antimicrobial peptide and a standard antibiotic called colistin, the latter being used as a last-resort antibiotic against multi-drug resistant bacteria.
The natural human antimicrobial peptide and the colistin drug each inhibited growth of only about 50 percent of the bacteria.
In marked contrast, the two eCAPS inhibited growth in about 90 percent of the test bacterial strains.
"We plan to continue developing the eCAPs in the lab and in animal models, with the intention of creating the least toxic and most effective version possible to kill superbugs," Montelaro said.
The study appeared online in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.