Jes Gitz Holler, a PhD student at the University of Copenhagen, has discovered a new compound that targets a particular resistance mechanism in yellow staphylococci.
Yellow staphylococcus (Staphylococcus aureus) is the most common cause of infection in wounds from an operation. These bacteria can be the cause of many diseases, from abscesses and food poisoning to life-threatening infections such as infective endocarditis and sepsis.
The development of resistance in these bacteria is extremely rapid. Bacterial strains that do not respond to treatment have already been found in many countries.
“I have discovered a natural substance in a Chilean avocado plant that is active in combination treatment with traditional antibiotics,” explained Jes Gitz Holler, a co-author of a paper published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. “Resistant bacteria have an efflux pump in their bacterial membrane that efficiently pumps out antibiotics as soon as they have gained access. The identified natural substance inhibits the pumping action, so that the bacteria’s defense mechanisms are broken down and the antibiotic treatment allowed to work.”
Jes Gitz Holler and his colleagues gathered specimens of the plant (Persea lingue) in Chile, where the Mapuche people use its leaves to heal wounds.
“The natural compound has great potential and perhaps in the longer term can be developed into an effective drug to combat resistant staphylococci,” Jes Gitz Holler said. “At this time there are no products on the market that target this same efflux-inhibitor mechanism. We want to improve the active substance using synthetic chemistry in the laboratory. That will also ensure sustainable production of a potential drug while protecting rainforest plants.”
Jes Gitz Holler also emphasizes that a commercial product will benefit the Mapuche people. At present there is a written agreement between the University of Copenhagen and the representative of the Mapuche people, Alfonso Guzmán, who helped procure the plant material.
“For all intents and purposes, the drug industry is not pursuing research into new antibiotics,” Jes Gitz Holler concluded. “It is simply too expensive relative to possible earnings, and there is more money in drugs to treat chronic diseases such as diabetes. Therefore, the bacteria are winning the race – resistance increases and treatment options are scarce. Research will have to find new paths and natural substances are one of them.”