NOVEL ways of overcoming antimicrobial resistance could be on the horizon thanks to a technique developed by researchers from the University of Warwick, Birmingham, UK, enabling hundreds of polymers to be synthesised and tested for antimicrobial activity. The innovative method, which involved the use of light, could lead to the rapid discovery of new antimicrobials to kill drug-resistant superbugs.
The team found a way to screen hundreds of different structures after synthesising large libraries of polymers. This allowed them to search for antibiotic activity far more quickly and efficiently than other methods by using multiple building blocks in the polymers. “Whilst many people have successively mimicked antimicrobial peptides with polymers, the limiting step was the number of different combinations of building blocks you can use. We used simple robotics and a light controlled polymerisation, which lets us do the chemistry open to air, without any sealed vials which are essential for most polymer syntheses,” explained co-lead author Prof Matthew Gibson, University of Warwick.
The researchers were hoping to discover broad spectrum antimicrobial peptides which break apart the membrane of bacteria. Instead, the polymers with the most antimicrobial activity functioned in the same manner as traditional antimicrobials, such as penicillin, by inhibiting key cellular processes of the bacteria.
“We prepared the polymers in such a way that at the end of the reaction, we use robotics to mix polymers directly with bacteria, so we could look for unexpected activity, which we achieved,” commented co-lead author Dr Sarah-Jane Richards, University of Warwick. “Surprisingly, the best materials do not seem to break apart the bacteria as we predicted, but rather inhibit their growth. We are investigating this further.”
Antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest challenges in healthcare currently and innovative solutions are needed to ensure there continue to be effective treatments for internal diseases and infections. It is hoped the new method can also be utilised in other areas, including food and personal care products.
James Coker, Reporter
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