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Monash researchers discover key to

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superbugs

superbug antibiotic resistance Deaths from antimicrobial resistance could rise to 10 million by 2050, surpassing the total deaths caused by cancer and diabetes combined, according to the World Health Organization. This has prompted the WHO to issue a warning about the need to urgently develop new antibiotics to counter the growing threat of superbugs.

S

uperbugs are bacteria that are resistant

to commonly used antibiotics, presenting a global

Researchers used the latest-generation electron microscopes at the Monash Ramaciotti Centre for

said Monash BDI scientist and lead researcher Dr Matthew Belousoff.

Electron Microscopy to image at the molecular

“The bacteria mutates or evolves to change

level — for the first time — the changes that take

the shape of the molecule to which the antibiotic

place in superbugs that have become resistant to

would bind so the drug can no longer fit there,” Dr

the most modern antibiotics.

Belousoff said.

health threat. To tackle this global challenge,

Examining bacterial samples of antibiotic-

“Knowing what your enemy is doing is the first

researchers from Monash’s Biomedicine Discovery

resistant Staphylococcus aureus or ‘Golden Staph’

step to the next phase of new drug design,” he said.

Institute (BDI) collaborated with Israel’s Weizmann

taken from a hospital patient, they compared data

“We’ve developed a technique that others can

Institute of Science and the NTU Institute of

of a non-resistant strain with their counterparts

use that might help us speed up the arms race of

Structural Biology in Singapore. The researchers

overseas. These included Shashi Bhushan from

antibiotic development.”

have now discovered the molecular mechanism

NTU and Zohar Eyal and Nobel Laureate Professor

Dr Belousoff said Monash BDI researchers

by which the potentially deadly superbug ‘Golden

Ada Yonath from the Weizmann Institute who won

are now using this new tool to investigate other

Staph’ evades antibiotic treatment, providing the

the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2009.

drug-resistant bacteria. The research, involving

first important clues on how to counter superbug antibiotic resistance. Their findings have been published in the journal mBio.

18 | LAB+LIFE SCIENTIST - Jun/Jul 2017

“Using the combined data we could rationalise

the expertise of Monash microscopist Dr Mazdak

how the bacteria escapes drug treatment by a really

Radjainia and mentoring of Professor Trevor

important hospital antibiotic and describe in

Lithgow, was supported by the Australian National

molecular detail how it becomes like a superbug,”

Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

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