Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

A Trojan Horse to Clear a Stuffy Nose

Clusters of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus protected by a biofilm.

Clusters of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus protected by a biofilm.

By Katharina Richter

Antibiotic resistance is expected to kill more people than cancer and diabetes combined, but a new approach aims to penetrate the biofilms that protect bacteria from antibiotics.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The rise of multi-resistant bacteria is one of the greatest risks to human health today. Recently the UK’s Review on Antimicrobial Resistance predicted that ten million people will die per year by 2050 due to infections caused by anti­biotic-resistant superbugs, which is more than the number of people dying from cancer and diabetes combined.

Bacteria have established subtle mechanisms to evade the immune system and become resistant to antibiotics. One way they do this is by forming biofilms. Biofilms are clusters of bacteria embedded in a self-produced slime. This matrix protects the bacteria against both immune attack and medical treatments.

Biofilms can be envisaged as a fortress comprising thick walls that antibiotics typically cannot penetrate. Within this fortress the bacteria can multiply and adapt to their environment, making it very hard to kill them.

Biofilms are found from head to toe. According to the US National Institutes of Health they account for more than 80% of microbial infections in the human body, including dental plaque, sinusitis, wound infections, urinary tract infections and catheter infections.

Biofilms can have lethal consequences when medical therapies fail to eradicate them, such as in cases of:

  • cystic fibrosis, where biofilms are responsible for recurring infections of the lungs, resulting in...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.