My PhD research back in the 1990s focused on investigating how Golden Staph becomes resistant to antibiotics and antiseptics. That research described some of the first known bacterial multidrug efflux pumps- proteins that sit in the bacterial cell membrane and can pump antimicrobial compounds out of the cell.
Since that time, our situation has worsened so that we now have highly multidrug resistant "Super Bugs" that are resistant to nearly all available treatment options. The World Health Organisation has recently declared that antibiotic resistance is one of the three greatest threats to human health.
It has been estimated that drug resistant Super Bugs add as much as 20 billion US dollars per year to direct healthcare costs in the USA.
We have just published a paper in PNAS where we investigate resistance to chlorhexidine in the hospital pathogen Acinetobacter baumannii. Chlorhexidine is an antiseptic that is very commonly used in soaps, handwashes, and mouthwashes. Using genomic approaches we identified a gene of unknown function that was highly expressed when cells were exposed to chlorhexidine. Further work revealed this gene encodes a new type of drug efflux pump. This is the first new type of bacterial drug efflux pump discovered in over a decade. This work was undertaken in collaboration with Peter Henderson's group at the University of Leeds. We are continuing this collaboration to investigate the structure of this efflux pump and how it binds chlorhexidine, opening up the possibility of designing inhibitors that would interfere with the pump.
We've received some coverage in the media-
- Aged Care Insite Superbug secret revealed
- Australian Hospital Review Scientists identify newresistance genes in superbugs resistant to a common disinfectant
- Science Daily Researchers pinpoint superbugs resistance protein
- Big News Network Researchers pinpoint superbugs resistanceprotein
- Medical Xpress Scientists identify new resistance genesinsuperbugs resistant to a common disinfectant
- Futurity Investigation into the Superbug