Antibiotics Are So Last Century! War On Superbugs Like MRSA To Be Fought With Tetraspanin Proteins?

Scientists have been warning doctors and patients for years now that the end of theAntibiotic Era is upon us. Bacteria has become resistant to even last-resort antibiotics in some areas of the country and around the globe. Something as simple as an infected scrape or a bedsore can kill. While Americans have been in panic-mode over measles, which reportedly kills less than one American a year, a deadly monster known as MRSA is living right under (and in) their noses.

MRSA is is a drug-resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus. Around 90,000 Americans suffer from invasive MRSA infection and about 20,000 Americans die each year from it, because our antibiotics no longer work against these infections. Many, according to the University of Chicago Medicine MRSA Research Center, are children.

Though those statistics change yearly, and the CDC does its best to track MRSA incidents, the clear point is that handling MRSA infections effectively no longer means antibiotic ointments or medications. Scientists are thinking outside the box. One new method from researchers at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom aims at preventing skin wounds like bedsores and ulcers from becoming infected.

The new research was completed in a human model of 3D tissue engineered skin. According to Medical News Today, the study indicated that the new treatment was safe and effective in humans. It involved tetraspanin proteins, not actually killing bacteria, unlike antibiotic therapy.

According to a report in Journal of Cell Science, “Tetraspanins are a family of proteins with four transmembrane domains that play a role in many aspects of cell biology and physiology.” Tetraspanins are used by several pathogens to promote infection and some even regulate cancer progression. Tetraspanins associate specifically and directly with specific proteins.

A Health and Human Services public access article specified that tetraspanin transmembrane proteins are now understood to be “key players in malignancy, the immune system, during fertilization and infectious disease processes.” There are many ways that “tetraspanins affect cell signalling, adhesion, morphology, motility, fusion and virus infection,” and even in 2008, when the HHS article was published, it was believed that targeting tetraspanins could be therapeutically beneficial.

Prof. Sheila MacNeil, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering created the 3D tissue engineered skin and the model used in the new research. The researchers collaborated with AGE U.K., a charity on a mission to improve the lives of senior citizens, to demonstrate that “while infection is launched by bacteria tightly attaching to skin cells by hijacking ‘sticky patches’ – by using proteins called tetraspanins from human cells – the patches are made less sticky, allowing bacteria to be washed away,” Medical News Today reported.

“Unlike traditional drugs, tetraspanin based anti-adherence peptides target components of the host as opposed to the bacteria and thus have a decreased likelihood of the development of resistance. This, alongside their broad specificity and low toxicity, make tetraspanin-derived peptides an appealing candidate for anti-bacterial drug development.”

“This development is a huge breakthrough in the fight against antibiotic-resistance,” Dr. Pete Monk from the Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Science, who led the study, said. “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.”

Monk says that clinical trials for a gel or cream that would work well with wound dressing could be available in the next three to five years.

The new therapy doesn’t actually work by killing bacteria, so it can’t encourage the evolution of resistance like antibiotics have. It has been proven to work on antibiotic-resistant bacteria, like MRSA, which the researchers said in a press release “is currently one of the biggest threats to global healthcare and medicine.”

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

With research funding from the Humane Research Trust, researchers are developing the new dressings that should promote more rapid healing of wounds. While the research paper published in PLOS One says that tetraspanin peptides “have no toxicity to the bacteria,” the report also noted they seem to have “no anti-adherence activity when added to the bacteria before adhesion to host cells.” The way this new treatment will be utilized will be to prevent infections in the wounds, not necessarily treat the infections after they are there.

One other big point that was not heavily highlighted by the media, but was pointed out by the researchers, is that the limitations of the study made it so that the researchers “cannot comment on the effects of the peptides on the immune system” and that anti-adherence therapies are a relatively new area of research.

In other antibiotic resistant bacteria developments, the Inquisitr previously reported that scientists in Sweden learned that drinking old-world style mead, a fermented mix of honey and water, could build up a natural resistance to antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA.

[Image via iStock]