Blocking bacterial biofilms without antibiotics (Day 157)

Our war against infection and disease is ongoing. New bacterial strains are consistently emerging and our current antibiotics are becoming less and less effective at fighting them.

Purple GermsGovernments and researchers worldwide are searching for new methods to help deal with the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Chemical engineers from the University of Washington have proposed a strategy to block bacterial biofilms forming and thus keep the bacteria in their more readily treatable single-cell form.

When our bodies become infected with pathogenic bacteria, the bacteria can aggregate to form biofilms (layers of bacterial cells) which are hard to destroy with antibiotics.

This indicates that we should be looking for new methods to remove the bacterial biofilms, rather than just relying on antibiotics.

A team of chemical engineering researchers have suggested a new strategy to help to prevent these biofilms forming – the use of compounds that interrupt a bacteria’s ability to regulate osmosis (the flow of water across its membrane); published in the ACS Journal of Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering.

cystic fibrosisThese biofilms cause problems in the body when they form on surfaces, for example: biofilms of Pseudomonas aeruginosa can cause life threatening problems in patients with cystic fibrosis when these biofilms form in the lungs; implants can be broken when biofilms form upon them leading to additional surgery to replace them; and prosthetic limbs can be damaged when biofilms grow on them.

Whilst the idea to disrupt the biofilms is not a new one, the approach is. Shaoyi Jiang and his colleagues focused on a bacteria’s need to control its osmotic pressure, which if left unregulated causes the bacteria to pump out large quantities of water into the surrounding environment, threatening their viability.

PillsShaoyi and the team worked hard to find a series of compounds that might effect this osmotic regulation. They found that ethylcholine was the most effective, reducing biofilm mass by up to 70 per cent.

The ethylcholine also did not decrease bacterial growth, which the team suggests could help stop the development of bacterial resistance to this strategy. Further tests showed that using ethylcholine did not influence the bacteria susceptibility to antibiotics.

The team are now working to uncover exactly how ethylcholine works to interrupt osmotic regulation in bacteria.

In an earlier blog I discussed the role of chemical engineers in producing the first antibiotics: ‘D-Day: a day chemical engineers should remember’, and I think that chemical engineers, like this team, should and are leading the way in producing new strategies to combat the huge problem of antibiotic resistance.

This work is far from completion and still needs to be tested in animal and human cells, but I feel it is a positive step forwards. This approach could have widespread implications, for example be used in the food industry or agriculture where biofilms are also a common problem.

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One thought on “Blocking bacterial biofilms without antibiotics (Day 157)

  1. Biofilms are also a problem in pharmaceutical manufacturing plants so this research should help there as well.

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