BREAKING NEWS UEA Researchers Discover Achilles’ Heel in Drug-resistant Bacteria

From the News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton

Embargo until 6pm June 18 2014 in the UK

Scientists at the University of East Anglia have announced ground breaking news and made an important breakthrough in the race to solve the big problem of antibiotic resistance.

New research published today 18.6.2014) in the journal Nature reveals an Achilles’ heel in the defensive barrier which surrounds drug-resistant bacterial cells.The findings pave the way for a new wave of drugs that kill superbugs by bringing down their defensive walls rather than attacking the bacteria itself. It means that in future, bacteria may not develop drug-resistance at all.

The discovery does not come a moment too soon. The World Health Organization has warned that antibiotic-resistance in bacteria is spreading globally, causing severe consequences. Even common infections which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.

Researchers investigated a class of bacteria called ‘Gram-negative bacteria’ which is particularly resistant to antibiotics because of its cells’ impermeable lipid-based outer membrane.

This outer membrane acts as a defensive barrier against attacks from the human immune system and antibiotic drugs. It allows the pathogenic bacteria to survive, but removing this barrier causes the bacteria to become more vulnerable and die.

Until now little has been known about exactly how the defensive barrier is built. The new findings reveal how bacterial cells transport the barrier building blocks (called lipopolysaccharides) to the outer surface.

Group leader Prof Changjiang Dong, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “We have identified the path and gate used by the bacteria to transport the barrier building blocks to the outer surface. Importantly, we have demonstrated that the bacteria would die if the gate is locked.”

“This is really important because drug-resistant bacteria is a global health problem. Many current antibiotics are becoming useless, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths each year.

“The number of super-bugs are increasing at an unexpected rate. This research provides the platform for urgently-needed new generation drugs.”

Lead author PhD student Haohao Dong said: “The really exciting thing about this research is that new drugs will specifically target the protective barrier around the bacteria, rather than the bacteria itself.

“Because new drugs will not need to enter the bacteria itself, we hope that the bacteria will not be able to develop drug resistance in future.”

This research was funded by Wellcome Trust. Research collaborators included Dr Neil Paterson of Diamond Light Source (UK), Dr Phillip Stansfield from the University of Oxford, and Prof Wenjan Wang of Sun Yat-sen University (China).

‘Structural basis for outer membrane lipopolysaccharide insertion’ is published in the journal Nature on June 18, 2014.

The University of East Anglia (UEA) was founded in 1963 and this academic year celebrates its 50th anniversary. It has played a significant role in advancing human understanding and in 2012 the Times Higher Education ranked UEA as one of the 10 best universities in the world under 50 years of age. The university has graduated more than 100,000 students, attracted to Norwich Research Park some of Britain’s key research institutes and a major University Hospital, and made a powerful cultural, social and economic impact on the region. UEA was ranked first in the Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey 2013.

The University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School has a reputation for exciting and innovative approaches to education, supported by a strong and rapidly developing research programme. Around 90 per cent of UEA research was rated internationally excellent in the last Research Assessment Exercise, with over 50 per cent ‘world leading’.

Editor’s Note
How good it is to see this development and well done those researchers and Professor Changjiang Dong. We all rely so heavily on antibiotics when we feel unwell. I think it is usually the first thing a doctor thinks about when we are ill.It does seem that antibiotics are used for a multitude of conditions.

There is no doubt antibiotics were one of the greatest medical discoveries of the 20th century and many of us turned to them to heal our aches and pains.

In fact I am just starting a new course right now – a second run of the same antibiotics as the first 14 tablets did not do the job. Maybe this is a bit of resistance on my inner workings.

But the growing rise in resistance to these particular drugs has become worrying and not only to the medical profession. Sadly some folks find if the first antibiotic prescription did not work they are offered alternative antibiotics. Then your GP may casually mention Cdiff – often too many antibiotics. – and the ‘runs’. See the Internet for more information and look for antibiotic-associated diarrhea and C.difficile infections.

So this news from the UEA University is a big move forward. May we hope the new drugs will be manufactured quickly and available soon? Sadly this kind of news is often followed by a ‘matter of fact’ note that states the new discovery will not be available until 2018, 2020 or whatever.I wonder if anyone knows how many antibiotic tablets are used in the UK in one year? I bet it is a staggering number.

The paragraph in the press release states the findings pave the way for a new wave of drugs that kill superbugs by bringing down their defensive walls rather than attacking the bacteria itself. It means that in future, bacteria may not develop drug-resistance at all.

This must be great news but my hope is the new drugs hit the market quickly. I wonder if the new drugs might be called anti-antibiotics.

An abstract from a medical source written in 2012 ( published an e-abstract from a study by G.D Wright.

The writer claimed antibiotics remain one of our most important pharmacological tools for the control of infectious disease. However, unlike most other drugs, the use of antibiotics selects for resistant organisms and erodes their clinical utility. Resistance can emerge within populations of bacteria by mutation and be retained by subsequent selection or by the acquisition of resistance elements laterally from other organisms. The source of these resistance genes is only now being understood. The evidence supports a large bacterial resistome – the collection of all resistance genes and their precursors in both pathogenic and nonpathogenic bacteria.

These genes have arisen by various means including self-protection in the case of antibiotic producers, transport of small molecules for various reasons including nutrition and detoxification of noxious chemicals, and to accomplish other goals, such as metabolism, and demonstrate serendipitous selectivity for antibiotics. Regardless of their origins, resistance genes can rapidly move through bacterial populations and emerge in pathogenic bacteria. Understanding the processes that contribute to the evolution and selection of resistance is essential to manage current stocks of antibiotics and develop new ones.

According to NHS Choices antibiotics remain one of our most important pharmacological tools for the control of infectious disease.

Antibiotic resistance
Antibiotics are no longer routinely used by doctors to treat infections for a number of important reasons:
• many infections are caused by viruses so antibiotics are not effective
• the use of antibiotics is unlikely to speed up the healing process and can cause unpleasant side effects
• the more antibiotics are used to treat trivial conditions, the more likely they are to become ineffective in treating more serious conditions.

Antibiotics are no longer routinely used to treat chest infections, ear infections in children and sore throats. But if you are considered at risk of bacterial infections, antibiotics may be recommended if you are are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of infection. This may include:

• people aged over 75 years

• babies less than 72 hours old with a confirmed bacterial infection, or a higher risk than average of developing one

• people with heart failure

• people who have to take insulin to control their diabetes

• people with a weakened immune system – either due to an underlying health condition such as HIV or as a side effect of certain treatments such as chemotherapy

I have just looked at some of the names of currently used antibiotics. I counted 60 different kinds of antibiotics and I only reached the letter C. For a full list of names try or log into for full information.

Antibiotics cannot treat colds, most coughs and sore throats. Get the facts about antibiotics and learn more about the annual European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD) held annually on November 18.

Various initiatives take place across Europe to raise awareness about the risks associated with an inappropriate use of antibiotics plus information on how to take these drugs responsibly.

Partners who are represented in the campaign include European dentists, the AGE group, nurses, health, students, paediatrics association, pharmacy students plus more and the European Society of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases with the Standing Committee of European Doctors.The World Health Organisation Regional Office also supports the Antibiotics Awareness Day.

According to website antibiotics were first introduced in 1935 with Sulphonamides. Pencillin was discovered in 1941. The list appears to grow as we fought World War II and needed this much-needed drug to treat our wounded.

Three years later we had Aminoglycosides and in 1945 as the WWI finished Cephalosporins was introduced. It is interesting that the last antibiotic in this history list is dated 2003 and is Lipopeptides. None of the names of antibiotics appear on the modern website except Penicillin which is now used under a number of other names. To see more details log on to their website.

Other interesting facts on this site claim antibiotics do not know the difference between ‘good; and ‘bad’ bacteria; you should always finish the course of antibiotics; green tea boosts the power of antibiotics in killing of bacteria; these drugs are life savers; animals take more antibiotics than humans; and there have been no new antibiotics in recent years.

Were the antibiotic concerns being raised 11 years go in 2003 when the last new antibiotic is listed in this history. I wonder?

However you look at it this, it has got to be a great step for mankind and apparently animals too. We hope to see the new drugs in circulation as soon as possible. Our thanks to the University of East Anglia and their researchers for their new discovery. Well done. Back soon Jeanne

About jeanne hambleton

Journalist-wordsmith, former reporter, columnist, film critic, editor, Town Clerk and then fibromite and eventer with 5 conferences done and dusted. Interested in all health and well being issues, passionate about research to find a cure and cause for fibromyalgia. Member LinkedIn. Worked for 4 years with FMA UK as Regional Coordinator for SW and SE,and Chair for FMS SAS the Sussex and Surrey FM umbrella charity and Chair Folly Pogs Fibromyalgia Research UK - finding funding for our "cause for a cure" and President and co ordinator of National FM Conferences. Just finished last national annual Fibromyalgia Conference Weekend. This was another success with speakers from the States . Next year's conference in Chichester Park Hotel, West Sussex, will be April 24/27 2015 and bookings are coming in from those who raved about the event every year. I am very busy but happy to produce articles for publication. News Editor of FMS Global News on line but a bit behind due to conference. A workaholic beyond redemption! The future - who knows? Open to offers with payment. Versatile and looking for a regular paid column - you call the tune and I will play the pipes.
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