2nd July 2012, 3:53pm
Superbug which attacks wounded soldiers could be combated by 'friendly' viruses
Acinetobacter baumannii Scientists at the University of Lincoln are working to develop new treatments to combat a deadly superbug which has ravaged soldiers wounded on the battlefield.

Acinetobacter baumannii first hit the headlines in 2003. Dubbed 'Iraqibacter', it caused serious problems for the military in Iraq, infecting the wounds of injured service personnel, often leading to their deaths.

Over the past decade it has been consistently in the Infectious Diseases Society of America's top 10 most dangerous pathogens. It can cause wound infections, catheter infections and a form of pneumonia.

Outside of combat zones, people are unlikely to suffer from an Acinetobacter baumannii infection unless they are already seriously ill and in hospital. However, if they already have an infection, and develop an Acinetobacter infection, there is very little that can be done since the superbug is resistant to most antibiotics. There are also cases of Acinetobacter baumannii pneumonia being reported outside of hospitals.

Scientists in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln are exploring techniques to use otherwise harmless biological organisms to target the Acinetobacter's natural vulnerabilities.

Many bacteria have their own predators in the form of bacterial viruses which attack them and nothing else. These viruses are called bacteriophage, meaning literally "devourer of bacteria".

Philip Skipper, a PhD student under the supervision of Dr Ron Dixon and Dr Ross Williams, is looking to find bacteriophage that will attack Acinetobacter while leaving other cells unharmed. He also aims to find ways to prevent the superbug developing resistance to treatment.

He said: "Bacteriophage therapy is not a new idea and has already been used successfully. However there are currently no bacteriophage treatments available for Acinetobacter baumannii, and very few bacteriophage identified which infect clinical strains. The first part of the research is to isolate bacteriophage from the environment, which can be used to increase the number of treatment options.
"The second stage of the project will be looking at how the Acinetobacter bacteria become resistant to treatments in the first place. Using antibiotics and some of the bacteriophage that have been discovered in the first stage of the project, I will investigate ways of blocking the development of resistance."

Research supervisor Dr Ron Dixon said: "Microbes from the environment are naturally very resistant to many of the antibiotics we commonly use for critically ill patients, forcing physicians to reluctantly use antibiotics of 'last resort'. Global concern of an impending crisis with few new antibiotics in the pipeline has caused a re-awakening of interest in alternatives to antibiotics with bacteriophage therapy, last used worldwide in the 1930s, as an attractive measure to counter infections. We are hoping that our new research will firmly establish bacteriophages as 'friendly' viruses capable of eradicating antibiotic-resistant pathogens without harming the patient and as a useful tool to investigate pathogens such as Acinetobacter."

For more information or to support Philip Skipper's research, visit his blog and fundraising page at: http://www.rockethub.com/projects/8790-they-eat-bacteria-viruses-that-help-heal-us
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