article

Sticky antibiotic provides glue for successful treatment

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Researchers have found how an antibiotic used to treat a debilitating gut infection stays put inside the body giving it time to effectively treat the problem, a discovery that will pave the way for the development of more effective antibiotic treatments to fight superbugs.

PE (pseudomembranous colitis) is a debilitating inflammation of the colon caused by infection with the microbe Clostridium difficile (andsometimesStaphylococcus aureus). The sugar- or carbohydrate-containing antibiotic known as vancomycin is taken by mouth to kill the infecting microbe.  

To be effective, vancomycin needs to stay in the GI tract (gut) close to where it is needed and not be diluted away or lost through the lining of the gut and into the bloodstream.  A multi-disciplinary team of scientists at the Universities of Nottingham and Leeds have now shown this ‘staying put’ mechanism is precisely what happens and that it can occur in an unexpected way. 

Forming a formidable barrier

The research, published today in Scientific Reports shows that protein-carbohydrate molecules of the gut called mucins provide a formidable barrier helping to prevent the drug escaping using a unique mechanism of formation of large molecular complexes or clumps. The antibiotic and mucins join together to form a mucoadhesive complex, likely trapping the antibiotic within large complexes.  It is the trapped vancomycin which the scientists believe may lead to delayed transit of the antibiotic leading to prolonged exposure of the antibiotic to the infectious C. difficile.

Vancomycin is a precious ‘last-line’ antibiotic in the clinician’s arsenal of therapies to fight several important pathogens including MRSA, pneumonia, as well as C. difficile. The clumping effect with gut mucins revealed in our study not only gives new information about what may happen when the antibiotic is given orally, but might also provide new insights into its behaviour when infused into patients suffering from other life-threatening infections.
Dr Mary Phillips-Jones, Associate Professor in Polymer & Microbial Biophysics at the University of Nottingham who led the research

The findings also fit with other studies which show that oral vancomycin produces high levels of vancomycin resistance amongst some gut bacteria (VRE), contributing to the generation of antimicrobial resistance (a serious concern); the clumping/ complexation phenomenon may therefore provide the first explanation of a mechanism by which this VRE generation occurs. But the benefits of taking oral vancomycin at the right time and when appropriate still outweigh any negative generation of antimicrobial resistance, and the study highlights that it is wise to take vancomycin when your GP advises it is good to do so.

The antibiotic vancomycin is a truly remarkable molecule – a drug with its own mucoadhesive or sticky property which slows its transit through the gut right down giving maximum therapeutic effect and minimizing unused vancomycin being returned to the environment. If scientists are going to win the fight against anti-microbial resistance, joint institutional and interdisciplinary approaches like this successful one are going to prove crucial.
Professor Stephen Harding
Jane Icke - Media Relations Manager Science
Email: jane.icke@nottingham.ac.uk
Phone: 0115 951 5751
Location:

Our academics can now be interviewed for broadcast via our Media Hub, which offers a Globelynx fixed camera and ISDN line facilities at University Park campus. For further information please contact a member of the Communications team on +44 (0)115 951 5798, email  pressoffice@nottingham.ac.uk or see the Globelynx website for how to register for this service.

For up to the minute media alerts, follow us on Twitter

Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. The University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its status as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 Sports University of the Year. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

More news…

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
C Floor, Pope Building (Room C4)
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798
email: pressoffice@nottingham.ac.uk