Biologists on the hunt for new medicines to fight a growing epidemic of drug resistance said Wednesday they found an antibiotic in an unexpected place — the human nose.
The promising compound is produced by a nose-dwelling bacterium, and is able to kill a disease-causing, antibiotic-resistant superbug, they reported.
“It was completely unexpected to find a human-associated bacterium to produce a real antibiotic,” said study co-author Andreas Peschel of the University of Tubingen in Germany.
“We have started a larger screening programme and we are sure there will be many additional antibiotics that can be discovered from these sources.”
Antibiotic compounds are usually obtained from bacteria which live in the soil.
But more and more disease-causing bugs are developing resistance to existing antibiotics, turning previously minor infections into potentially deadly ones.
According to some estimates, drug-resistant bacteria may within decades be causing more deaths than cancer.
Resistance is caused, among other things, by doctors overprescribing antibiotics, and patients not taking the correct doses.
Some germs, including those that cause tuberculosis, can be resistant to multiple drugs.
Peschel and a team examined why 30 percent of people have Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in their nose, and 70 percent do not.
S. aureus is one of the most frequent causes of severe bacterial infections, and claims many human lives. A strain of S. aureus has developed antibiotic resistance.
The researchers discovered that a different bacterium called Staphylococcus lugdunensis, which is more commonly found in some noses than others, produces an S. aureus-fighting antibiotic.
They christened the compound Lugdunin.
In mice, the newly discovered antibiotic cleared or improved skin infections in lab experiments, the team reported, apparently without any toxic side-effects.
These were “very unexpected and exciting findings that can be very helpful, we think, for new concepts for the development of antibiotics,” Peschel told journalists ahead of the study being published by British journal Nature.
A lot more study is needed, he added.
“We are at the very beginning. The pre-clinical and later clinical development is a matter of many years and a matter of a lot of money that needs to be raised…. We will need partners from the pharmaceutical industry.”
There are more than 1,000 microbe species living in the human body, raising the possibility of many more antibiotic-producing bacteria just waiting to be discovered.
The researchers concluded that “human microbiota should be considered as a source for new antibiotics.”