Potential superbug killer found in human nose

German scientists say mice tests show nose-dwelling bacterium is able to kill antibiotic-resistant infection.

    Potential superbug killer found in human nose
    Some scientists have warned that lugdunin could also be harmful to human cells [AP]

    Scientists searching for ways to combat antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections say they have found a new potential weapon in an unexpected place: the human nose.

    The promising compound is produced by a nose-dwelling bacterium, and is able to kill a disease-causing, antibiotic-resistant superbug, the researchers said in a paper published on Wednesday by the journal Nature.

    "It was completely unexpected to find a human-associated bacterium to produce a real antibiotic," said study co-author Andreas Peschel of the University of Tubingen in Germany.

    "We have started a larger screening programme and we are sure there will be many additional antibiotics that can be discovered from these sources."

    In the past, most new antibiotics have been discovered by sifting through soil samples. The last new class of the drugs to reach patients was discovered in the 1980s.

    The scientists found Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in the noses of about 30 percent of people, raising the question why the other 70 percent were not beset by this staph bacterium. A hardened variety, known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is among the superbugs that pose a growing health problem worldwide.

    The researchers said that another in-nose bacterium - called Staphylococcus lugdunensis - appeared to be keeping the rival staph at bay in some people by producing its own antibiotic.

    WATCH: Antibiotics Resistance: The End of Modern Medicine

    Peschel and his colleagues isolated the new antibiotic, which they called lugdunin, and tested it on mice whose skin had been infected with Staphylococcus aureus. They found it was effective in clearing the bacteria in most cases.

    Tests to see whether the new antibiotic would work in humans have not yet been conducted. 

    Finding one that works against MRSA would be a great success because more people are expected to die from infections with resistant bacteria than from cancer in 10 years' time, said Peschel.

    So far, staph does not seem to be able to adapt to lugdunin. "For whatever reason it seems to be very, very difficult for Staphylococcus aureus to become resistant to lugdunin, which is interesting," Peschel said.

    However, Kim Lewis and Philip Strandwitz, two scientists at Northeastern University in Boston who were not involved in the study, warned that lugdunin itself might not be a safe treatment because it appeared likely that the antibiotic could be harmful to human cells.

    READ MORE: Can ancient remedies head off super-bug crisis

    But in a commentary published alongside the original paper, they said the approach taken by Peschel and his colleagues could lead to further antibiotics discoveries.

    Peschel said he did not believe lugdunin was particularly toxic but noted that research is only just the beginning.

    Even if the new antibiotic turns out not to be suitable it might be possible to adapt the bacterium or transfer key genes to innocuous germs that could then be used to fight MRSA.

    SOURCE: Agencies


    How different voting systems work around the world

    How different voting systems work around the world

    Nearly two billion voters in 52 countries around the world will head to the polls this year to elect their leaders.

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    The great plunder: Nepal's stolen treasures

    The great plunder: Nepal's stolen treasures

    How the art world's hunger for ancient artefacts is destroying a centuries-old culture. A journey across the Himalayas.