The 25-Year-Old Malaysian Chinese Just Solved The Superbug Problem

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MELBOURNE, Sept 18 – The 25-year-old Scientists, Shu Lam, have made a major breakthrough in the battle against antibiotic-resistant superbugs by creating molecules which are able to kill the deadly bacteria. The team from the University of Melbourne’s School of Engineering made the discovery as part of work to find treatments for cancer.

Superbugs have been identified by the World Health Organisation as one of the greatest threats to human health after adapting to become resistant to all forms of antibiotics. Malaysian-Chinese PhD candidate Shu Lam said the team developed a chain of star-shaped protein molecules called peptide polymers that could defeat the superbugs by “ripping apart” their cell walls. She said that actually makes it very difficult for bacteria to adapt and to survive after being treated by these peptide polymers. 

The scientists said unlike antibiotics that attempt to kill these bugs chemically and killing nearby healthy cells in the process, the superbugs showed no signs of resistance to the molecules. Ms Lam said superbugs posed a grave threat to humans. She said she have spent the past three and a half years researching polymers and looking at how they can be used to kill antibiotic resistant bacteria or superbugs.

She told this on This Week in Asia. She also added that the star-shaped polymers work by tearing into the surface membrane of the bacteria, triggering the cell to kill itself. She said it is estimated that superbugs will actually cause up to 10 million deaths a year by 2050. She also added that to make things worse there have only been just a few new antibiotics developed in the past 30 years.

Research ‘still in early stages’

The scientists stress that their research is only in the very early stages. Ms Lam said the team’s work had so far focused on one major class of bacteria and more research was needed to examine how other types of bacteria responded to the molecules. She said this is still at quite a primary or basic research level.

She said what they need to do next is to look in detail at how these peptide polymers actually work. Professor Greg Qiao, from the university’s School of Engineering, agreed that more study was needed. He said there’s a lot of work before they go to commercialisation. The research has been published in the journal Nature Microbiology.

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