Finding could safeguard future of some human drugs
Scientists at the University of Leicester have discovered an organism that targets harmful bacteria and leaves ‘good’ bacteria intact in pigs. The discovery could transform the way we treat drug-resistant infections in humans.
In the study, funded by AHDB Pork, researchers isolated 20 bacteriophages - or bacterial viruses - that target 72 strains of drug-resistant bacteria that can cause gut problems in pigs.
The finding suggests that bacteriophages could work with livestock antibiotics, or replace them altogether - helping safeguard the future of some human antibiotics. Researchers say that the discovery could also speed up the progress of similar applications in human medicine.
The breakthrough has been welcomed by agriculture and food industry alliance RUMA, which promotes the responsible use of antibiotics in farm animals.
“The issue of antibiotic resistance is one shared by human and animal medicine, and a number of initiatives across medical and veterinary sciences are attempting to understand and reduce the spread of resistance genes in bacteria,” said RUMA secretary John Fitzgerald.
“A discovery such as this could be a real game-changer, not just helping the farming industry to steward antibiotics more effectively but potentially speeding up the development of human medical applications.”
Dr Charlotte Evans, technical senior manager with AHDB Pork, explained that bacteriophages are found everywhere in the environment so they can be regarded as a ‘natural’ defence.
“There’s still a long way to go in terms of trials and licensing but we are very pleased this research, which was started two years ago, has already yielded such promising results,” she said.
“Bacteriophage treatment is about using increased volumes of something that is already present to target harmful bacteria. Research suggests they do not harm other organisms because the relevant receptor is not present.”
Dr Evans added that the next move is to determine whether bacteriophages could be applied by spray, injection or vaccination, or by adding to water or feed.