Fighting infection without antibiotics
More than 280,000 people in the UK are believed to suffer with food poisoning caused by the campylobacter bug every year.
The bacteria is commonly found in poultry – over 65% of chicken on sale in the UK has been found to be contaminated – and is a leading cause of gastroenteritis which causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea. Annually, it costs the global economy hundreds of millions of pounds. I have been working alongside Akeso Biomedical Inc, an American company, to develop an iron compound which provides an antibiotic-free solution to the problem.
The Fe3C compound, an iron chelate, is added to chicken feed and prevents campylobacter from binding to the wall of the bird’s gastro-intestinal tract. Unlike the antibiotics which are typically used to treat the condition, the compound does not destroy the bacteria, so it cannot become resistant to it. The emergence of microbes resistant to antibiotics is a huge global threat to human and animal health.
"This $5.9 million project has involved extensive collaboration between biochemists, microbiologists, vets, venture capitalists and the world of business"
Our work is significant because it identifies a new way of treating one of the world’s most common bacterial infections without the use of antibiotics.
This $5.9 million project has involved extensive collaboration between biochemists, microbiologists, vets, venture capitalists and the world of business, with trials taking place in the UK, Germany, Greece, USA and Finland.
The product is set to be commercially available within the next year and will have not only health impacts but also huge economic impacts, improving efficiency in poultry production and reducing the use of antibiotics in farming.
As a scientist it is immensely inspiring and rewarding to see technology being translated all the way from the lab bench to the commercial world in this way.
Panos Soultanas is a Professor of Biochemistry and Biological Chemistry, School of Chemistry.