Superbugs pose a huge threat to the future of humanity. With its resistance to all antibiotics, World Health Organisation posits that superbugs are expected to kill millions of people in the next few decades.
At the forefront of the global war against this deadly threat is a group of scientists in Australia who have recently made a major breakthrough in effectively putting a stop to it, reported South China Morning Post. The team is on the cusp of developing a chain of polymer molecules that has the ability to eliminate antibiotic-resistant bacteria while protecting healthy cells from potential damage.
The group’s main heroine is Malaysian-Chinese Shu Lam, a 25-year-old PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne who developed the star-shaped polymer chain while working on her thesis research in antimicrobials and superbugs.
“I’ve spent the past three and a half years researching polymers and looking at how they can be used to kill antibiotic resistant bacteria,” Lam was quoted as saying.
Polymers are chemical compounds made of smaller molecules that can be used to physically attack superbugs. Its non-chemical approach preserves the health of the cells nearby. Lam explained that her polymers slice through the bacteria’s membrane to trigger the cell to self-destruct.
Macromolecular chemistry and engineering professor Greg Qiao, who is also Lam’s PhD supervisor and leader of the Polymer Science Group, pointed out how polymers can withstand bacterial mutations:
“The components of the polymer can also be tweaked differently depending on the application,” Qiao said.
Lams discovery, which could possibly be among the most significant breakthroughs of this generation, was recently published in the journal of Nature Microbiology.
The team admits that there is still more work to be done as they seek to implement the best possible formula and structure to use for the polymers. They also intend to minimize its dosage and to conduct further tests on its toxicity to ensure the compound is ready for human use.
“Even with all the money in the world, it would take at least five years to go to the first human test, because many resources and work are needed for its commercialization,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lam plans to continue to work in research after she has submitted her PhD thesis which is due in two months.
“My main preference would be to continue to stay in research, but I am also looking at career fields outside of polymer research,” she said.