Pittsburgh scientists quell virus-bacteria infections with engineered antimicrobial drug


Hospitals and care homes are commonly under the threat of “superbugs” which develop to become drug-resistant, including bacterial biofilms and respiratory viruses--both notoriously difficult to treat. Now researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Vaccine Research say they may have an answer that could trump therapies that are currently used in the clinic. 

The research group was headed up by senior author Jennifer Bomberger and they published their work in the journal mSphere earlier this month. 

The group leveraged from what was previously shown in their lab--that viruses can encourage the growth of bacterial biofilms--and developed a therapeutic approach to hit both. 

"This is really unusual. To the best of our knowledge, no other antibiotics out there work on both the bacteria and the virus during a co-infection," said Bomberger. "Antibiotic-resistant chronic infections are an urgent public health threat, and the development of new therapies has been painfully slow. So to see something work on a virus and the incredibly resistant biofilms that bacteria form is very exciting."  

The therapy is based on an engineered cationic antimicrobial peptide known as “eCAP”, an enhanced antimicrobial that is synthetically produced which they say is more efficient than naturally occurring antimicrobial peptides. These peptides were developed by co-author Ronald Montelaro who explained they work by “punching into” bacteria and viruses—killing them off. 

Tested in the lab on a drug-resistant strain of the deadly Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the group showed that after one hour it was already 50 times more effective at killing the biofilm than traditional treatment. Importantly the cells infected with the bacteria that usually reside in the airways were untouched by eCAP. 

They also showed when eCAP was used in treating airway cells infected with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) they could achieve a 150-fold reduction in viable viral particles. Further, they showed this therapy was 10 times more effective when administered to the same airway cells but co-infected with RSV and then P. aeruginosa. 

In another application they hinted at the use of eCAP as a cleaning agent for medical equipment, since biofilms readily grow on plastic. 

"We're incredibly encouraged by these results," said Montelaro in a release. "Again and again, eCAPS are performing well in laboratory tests and mouse models. They're an exciting possibility to help solve the antimicrobial-resistant superbug crisis that our world increasingly faces."

here’s the release