06:58pm Monday 18 December 2017

Finding new ways to save lives by killing antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Tony Kettle imageProfessor Tony Kettle

The funding is for the Centre for Free Radical Research, led by Professor Tony Kettle of the University of Otago, Christchurch. The program of research recognises the significant threat posed by growing rates of global infections, and the ever decreasing ability of antibiotics to kill bacteria that cause fatal infections. Research projects will be led by Professors Mark Hampton, Margreet Vissers, and Christine Winterbourn.

Antimicrobial resistance is recognised by Governments and international medical bodies as a serious threat to health and lives. Dire scenarios predict that within the next decade people will die from infections we now treat simply with antibiotics.

Professor Kettle says the overuse of antibiotics, particularly general ones that target many types of bacteria, has allowed a wide range of bugs to develop resistance, and render many common antibiotics useless.

One of the ways our body fights infection is through the action of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell. Neutrophils hunt out and kill pathogenic bacteria. However, in some cases -not yet well understood by scientists – fatal infections occur when neutrophils are overwhelmed or bacteria evade them. In these situations, more neutrophils rush to the site of infection and damage healthy tissue rather than killing the bacteria.

Professor Kettle says unlocking the secrets of how bacteria escape from neutrophils could be critical to combating antibiotic resistance, and is central to his $4.8 million HRC grant.

“New antibiotics could be designed to negate bacterial defences so that neutrophils kill bacteria normally and stop the bacteria from causing major live threatening infections.”

Over five years, Professor Kettle’s team will:

  • Develop better ways to determine exactly which bacteria are responsible for an infection so the right antibiotics can be used.
  • Understand how some bacteria evade neutrophils and promote serious infections.
  • Identify new strategies for the development of new types of antibiotics.

Professor David Murdoch, head of the Department of Pathology at University of Otago Christchurch and a leader of The Infection Group research group, will bring his clinical expertise and international links to the research program. He plays a major role in infectious disease projects funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Through the new program it is hoped that this connection can be enhanced to help diagnose pneumonia in young children from third world countries.

Professor Kettle also funded $800,000 for research into cystic fibrosis

The HRC also awarded Professor Kettle $800,000 to understand how white blood cells damages the lungs of young children with cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis is caused by a faulty protein that makes the lungs susceptible to infections. White blood cells swarm into the lungs to fight infections but, as Professor Kettle has discovered, actually destroy them with chlorine bleach and digestive enzymes. Using this new grant, Professor Kettle will assess whether lung function declines as airway proteins are damaged. He and his team will also determine whether damaged airway proteins are present in blood and can be used as much-needed markers of infection in children with cystic fibrosis. The project will enhance the understanding of inflammation in cystic fibrosis and enable therapies to be tailored to limit the most debilitating consequences of the disease.

For more information, contact:

Professor Tony Kettle
University of Otago, Christchurch
Email: tony.kettle@otago.ac.nz


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