The new compound that destroys the MRSA superbug

A compound that both inhibits the MRSA superbug and renders it more vulnerable to antibiotics has been discovered by scientists at the University of Bath in the UK led by Dr Maisem Laabei and Dr Ian Blagbrough.

The novel compound — a polyamine — seems to destroy Staphylococcus aureus, the bacterium that causes (among other things) deadly Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections, by disrupting the pathogen’s cell membrane.

The compound was tested in-vitro against 10 different antibiotic-resistant strains of S. aureus, including some that are known to be resistant to vancomycin — the final drug of choice given to patients fighting an MRSA infection. The compound was completely successful against all strains, resulting in no further bacterial growth.

The study shows that as well as destroying S. aureus directly, the compound is able to restore the sensitivity of multidrug resistant strains of the bacteria to three important antibiotics (daptomycin, oxacillin and vancomycin). This could mean that antibiotics that have become ineffective through decades of overuse may, in time, reclaim their ability to bring serious infections under control.

“We’re not entirely sure why these synergies occur between the compound and antibiotics, but we’re keen to explore this further,” said Dr Laabei, researcher from the Department of Live Sciences at Bath.

The pathogen’s vulnerability

Polyamines are naturally occurring compounds found in most living organisms. Until a decade ago, they were thought to be essential to all life, but scientists now know they are both absent in, and toxic to, S. aureus. Since making this discovery, researchers have been attempting to exploit the pathogen’s unusual vulnerability to polyamines to inhibit bacterial growth.

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