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'Lock picking' drugs could help us beat antibiotic resistance © Wong et al. (2019)

'Lock picking' drugs could help us beat antibiotic resistance

Published: 08th September, 2019 at 08:00
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Drug-resistant bacteria responsible for deadly infections that spread inside hospitals have been on the rise for several years.

Drug-resistant bacteria responsible for deadly infections that spread inside hospitals have been on the rise for several years. Over time these bacteria have developed the ability to shut out antibiotics by closing tiny doors in their cell walls, rendering them ineffective.

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However, things may be about change. Researchers at Imperial College London have discovered that designing new drugs that 'pick the locks' of these closed doors could allow antibiotics to get into bacterial cells and kill them off.

The team concentrated their efforts on Klebsiella pneumoniae – a bacterium that causes infections in the lungs, blood and open wounds. Like many bacteria, K. pneumoniae is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, particularly a family of drugs called Carbapenems – a class of antibiotics used when others have failed.

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Antibiotics usually enter the K. pneumoniae bacteria through surface doorways known as pores. However, they found that antibiotic resistant k. pneumoniae have modified versions of the proteins necessary to fully form these pores, leading to cell walls that antibiotics are unable to penetrate. Finding a drug that could reverse this process, and reopen the pores, is one way of combatting antibiotic resistance in k. pneumoniae, they say.

“The modification the bacteria use to avoid antibiotics is difficult to get around. Any drugs to counteract this defence mechanism would likely also get blocked out by the closed doors,” said research leader Professor Gad Frankel. “However, we hope that it will be possible to design drugs that can pick the lock of the door, and our data provides information to help scientists and pharmaceutical companies make these new agents a reality.”


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Authors

Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.

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