Compounds derived from a marine sponge can thwart the defenses of a broad range of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a researcher reported here yesterday. The chemicals, which are nontoxic, somehow break down tough agglomerations of bacteria, called biofilms, which leaves the bacteria vulnerable to conventional antibiotics.
Several kinds of compounds can help disrupt biofilms, but none have reached the clinic. The new compounds were derived over the past several years from a molecule called ageliferin by Christian Melander of North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh. These compounds break down biofilms and prevent their reformation "with unprecedented effectiveness," according to NSCU colleague John Cavanagh's Web site. They are "extremely broad-acting," he told Science.
At the meeting, team member Peter Moeller, a research chemist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Charleston, South Carolina, described unpublished results that the compounds also render several strains of bacteria, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) susceptible to conventional antibiotics. The compounds have the same effect on pathogenic bacteria that don't form biofilms, he noted. One idea is to try adding these compounds into medical devices such as stents or artificial limbs to prevent biofilms.
At this early stage it's difficult to know whether the ageliferin compounds will be more successful than other contenders. "From a basic science perspective, the uniqueness will lie in their mode of action," says Paul Hergenrother of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. And right now, the mechanism is a mystery.