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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Florida Researchers: Novel Compounds Kill Biofilms, May Eliminate Persistent Bacterial Infections

Researchers at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions have developed potent new compounds with aquatic origins that may offer relief for the 17 million Americans affected by biofilm-associated bacterial infections annually.

The series of compounds known as the halogenated phenazines, or HPs, can kill dangerous bacterial biofilms present in recurring and chronic bacterial infections such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. The discovery may one day offer a cure for persistent bacterial infections that are largely resistant to conventional antibiotic treatments. Results were published in the Angewandte Chemie journal’s online edition.

Biofilms are bacterial communities that accumulate and attach to surfaces, including live tissues in humans. The bacterial cluster is often slow or non-growing, encased in a protective layer of diverse biological molecules that form a ‘slime,’ and displays tolerance to every known class of antibiotic treatments available. Biofilm infections affect almost every tissue in the body, and without a way to eliminate the biofilm, chronic and sometimes fatal infections develop over time. Common biofilm infections include pneumonia in cystic fibrosis patients, chronic wounds and implant- and catheter-associated infections.

In the study, Florida researchers led by Dr. Robert Huigens, an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry at the UF College of Pharmacy, tested in a laboratory the HP compound’s ability to eradicate biofilms of several major human pathogens. HP compounds not only proved effective in eradication efforts but also selectively targeted the biofilms without breaking down the encasing cell membrane of healthy human cells. Team members Dr. Volker Mai, an associate professor in the department of epidemiology at Florida and a member of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute, and Dr. Maria Ukhanova, a research scientist at the Emerging Pathogens Institute, tested for effects of the new compounds on gut microbiota composition and are developing the animal model to test efficacy of the compounds against biofilms.

“Using synthetic chemistry, we have developed a series of marine antibiotic-inspired molecules that target a problem conventional antibiotics are unable to address because cells housed within bacterial biofilms are tolerant of them,” Huigens said. “We have been aware that biofilms greatly contribute to infections over the past 20 years, but there are no biofilm-eradicating therapeutic agents available. Discovering and developing potent biofilm-killing agents is the first step toward eradicating biofilms in patients.”

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