Australian Tree Drug Kills Bacteria
A new class of anti-bacterial compounds capable of treating hard to heal wound infections has been isolated from a tree species in Australia.
Antibiotic resistant bacteria remain one of the biggest threats to global health, and the pipeline of new antibiotic drugs is running dry. But found in the Queensland Blushwood tree, where they act as a natural deterrent against microbial attack, the new compounds are effective against chronic wounds caused by resistant bacteria.
The discovery, made by an international team of researchers, happened by chance. “Originally it wasn’t anything to do around microbes,” says Brisbane-based Jason Cullen, senior researcher at QIMRB, Australia. “Similar looking compounds were being used to treat tumours. After it treated the tumour, you got this very nice wound healing response.”
Skin wounds that heal poorly are often colonised caused by bacteria that secrete a sticky, gel-like substance known as a biofilm. This biofilm “shield” protects bacteria from antibiotic treatment and also from the body’s immune system, making wounds hard to treat.
But in tests, the compound, dubbed “EBC-1013”, disrupted bacterial biofilms and provoked an immune response that accelerated wound healing and skin regeneration.
“They appear to disrupt the bacterial biofilm and they are not antibiotic in the sense they do not directly kill the bacteria but they just disrupt these structures,” says Cullen. “We think this will help circumvent the resistance problem, because they’re targeting bacterial virulence rather than growth and survival of the bacteria.”
These encouraging results, carried out in various animal models of bacterial infection and wounding, mean that these new plant-inspired compounds are promising clinical leads. They team are now exploring next steps with drug regulatory authorities in the UK with a view to starting clinical trials soon.