Could liposomes be the answer to our antibiotic crisis?

A new compound could help end our over-reliance on antibiotics to fight bacterial infections (Photo: Shutterstock)

It’s no secret we are facing an antibiotic crisis. Overuse has caused widespread antibiotic resistance, leading the World Health Organisation to declare we are "headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill." Scientists from the University of Bern have developed a new non-antibiotic compound that treats severe bacterial infections and avoids the problem of bacterial resistance.

We have a lot to thank antibiotics for. Before the discovery of penicillin 90 years ago pneumonia, tuberculosis, or even an infected cut could be fatal. And today, many of our routine surgical procedures are dependent on the ability to fight infections with antibiotics.

However, up to half of antibiotic use in humans and much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary or inappropriate according to the Centers for Disease Control, and this overuse is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance.

Although there have been many developments over the years, such as antibiotic "smart bombs", the difficulty has been eliminating bacteria without also promoting bacterial resistance. This has created a need to strive for non-antibiotic approaches, including "ninja polymers" and more natural treatments like raw honey and natural proteins.

This latest non-antibiotic compound developed by Eduard Babiychuk and Annette Draeger from the Institute of Anatomy, University of Bern, and tested by a team of international scientists, was created by engineering artificial nanoparticles made of lipids, "liposomes" that closely resemble the membrane of host cells.

In clinical medicine, liposomes are used to deliver specific medication into the body of patients. The scientists in Bern have created liposomes that act as bait, attracting bacterial toxins so they can be isolated and neutralized, thereby protecting host cells from a dangerous toxin attack. Without toxins, the bacteria are rendered defenseless and can be eliminated by the host's own immune system. Mice which were treated with the liposomes after experimental, fatal septicemia survived without additional antibiotic therapy.

"We have made an irresistible bait for bacterial toxins. The toxins are fatally attracted to the liposomes, and once they are attached, they can be eliminated easily without danger for the host cells," says Eduard Babiychuk who directed the study.

"Since the bacteria are not targeted directly, the liposomes do not promote the development of bacterial resistance", adds Annette Draeger.

The work has been published in Nature Biotechnology.

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