Experts at Queen's University are involved in a multi-million pound global research project that could develop groundbreaking treatments for some of the world's top killer superbugs.
Six million deaths occur globally every year due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and other serious infections.
The team of scientists is aiming to identify the Achilles' heels of the body's defences – the particular weaknesses that bacteria, viruses and parasites attack.
And the research should trigger the development of drugs within 10 to 15 years to treat infections caused by superbugs such as Streptococci – a bacteria that is a leading cause of meningitis – and also treat the common flu virus.
The major INBIONET (Infection Biology Training Network) project will last four years with the aim of reducing death levels from infections.
The £3m programme may also shed light on other conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Professor José Bengoechea from Queen's School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences will co-ordinate the project, which involves renowned and experienced scientists from across Europe.
Around half of the six million fatalities are caused by respiratory infections.
That will be a major focus for the team.
Prof Bengoechea, who is also chairman of infectious diseases at Queen's University's Centre for Infection and Immunity, said such superbugs were on the increase worldwide and represented a major threat to global public health.
"An increase in world travel, climate change and the continuous transfer of viruses to humans from other organisms have all contributed to the growth and spread of infections, and the growing number of so-called superbugs, which are largely resistant to antibiotics," he said.
"By identifying these vulnerable pathways, we will be in a better position to develop new therapies to block the offending microbes and stop the infection in its tracks.
"The anticipated results of the research should initiate the development of drugs to treat infections caused by superbugs.
"These include such superbugs as Klebsiella pneumoniae and Streptococci, and viruses such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus," Professor Bengoechea added.
Who is involved in the research project?
- Queen's University Belfast
- University of St Andrews
- Trinity College Dublin
- Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology (Germany)
- École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland)
- University of Vienna (Austria)
- Institut Pasteur (France)