Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Northern Ireland scientists find a new weapon in MRSA war

A new weapon that could help wipe out the deadly MRSA virus has been developed by researchers from Northern Ireland.

Experts from Queen’s University have discovered new agents that can kill colonies of MRSA and other antiboitic resistant hospital-acquired |infections.

The antimicrobial agents also prevent any growth of the potentially lethal bacteria.

The breakthrough was made by a team of eight researchers from the Queen's University Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL) Research Centre led by Brendan Gilmore, a lecturer in Pharmaceutics, and assistant director of QUILL Dr Martyn Earle. The discovery has been published in the |scientific journal, Green Chemistry.

Dr Earle said: “We have shown that, when pitted against the ionic liquids we developed and tested, biofilms offer little or no protection to MRSA, or to seven other infectious microorganisms.

“Our goal is to design ionic liquids with the lowest possible toxicity to humans while wiping out colonies of bacteria that cause hospital acquired infections.”

Many types of bacteria, such as MRSA, exist in colonies that stick to the surfaces of materials. The colonies often form coatings, known as biofilms, which protect them from antiseptics, disinfectant, and |antibiotics.

Ionic liquids, just like the table salt sprinkled on food are salts. They consist entirely of ions — electrically-charged atoms or groups of atoms. Unlike table salt, however, which has to be heated to over 800 degrees celsius to become a liquid, the ionic |liquid antibiofilm agents remain |liquid at the ambient temperatures found in hospitals.

One of the attractions of ionic liquids is the opportunity to tailor their physical, chemical, and biological properties by building specific features into the chemical structures of the positively-charged ions (the cations), and/or the negatively-charged ions (the anions).

Microbial biofilms are not only problematic in hospitals, but can also grow inside water pipes and cause pipe blockages in industrial processes.

Mr Gilmore added: “Ionic liquid based antibiofilm agents could potentially be used for a multitude of medical and industrial applications. For example, they could be used to improve infection control and reduce patient morbidity in hospitals and therefore lighten the financial burden to healthcare providers. They could also be harnessed to improve industrial productivity by reducing biofouling and microbial-induced corrosion of processing systems.”

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