Starving superbugs, then poisoning them
- Media call 11am, Tuesday 6 March.
- Basil Hetzel Institute, 37A Woodville Rd, Woodville South (opposite the Queen Elizabeth Hospital).
- Researcher and clinician available for interview. Background images online.
Adelaide researchers have developed and patented a novel approach to fight superbugs, like golden staph, by targeting the bugs’ favourite food—iron.
Dr Katharina Richter and colleagues from the University of Adelaide have commenced the first human trials of the treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Superbugs, or antibiotic-resistant bacteria, cause 700,000 deaths globally every year as existing antibiotics can’t effectively kill them.
The threat from superbugs to human health is likely to worsen, with the World Health Organization predicting by 2050, 10 million people will die each year due to antibiotic resistance.
New weapons are needed to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Dr Richter is targeting how bacteria consume iron, to disrupt their ability to cause disease, make them vulnerable and ultimately kill them.
“Iron is like chocolate for bacteria. It gives them energy to grow, cause disease, and withstand attacks from our immune systems and antibiotics,” says Dr Richter.
“Using two different compounds, we first starve the bacteria of iron and then feed them the bacterial equivalent of poisonous chocolate, which the hungry bacteria find irresistible.
“This ‘double whammy’ approach has defeated superbugs like golden staph in laboratory and animal studies,” she says.
The treatment is being trialled to help patients with antibiotic-resistant sinus infections—with the two compounds included in a wound-healing gel.
“The treatment is locally applied at the infection site, precisely where it is needed without interfering with the entire body,” says Dr Richter.
“In our studies so far, we haven’t observed any side effects. Moreover, the risk for resistance is low as bacteria are unlikely to become resistant to their preferred food.”
In the future, Dr Richter hopes the therapy can be refined so it can also be used to treat other superbug infections.
The team are recruiting patients with chronic recurring sinus infections for the trials.
“We are hoping that this treatment will improve the quality of life for patients after sinus surgery,” says the trials’ principal investigator Professor Peter-John Wormald.
Professor Wormald is an ear, nose and throat surgeon at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and chair of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Adelaide.
“By better treating the bacteria causing their infections we hope to extend the period of time patients are symptom-free, and potentially reduce their need for further surgery.”
Dr Richter completed her PhD at the University of Adelaide in 2017. Her doctoral research was partially funded by The Hospital Research Foundation.
She is now continuing this research as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Adelaide and the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research.
Dr Richter recently won the Pitch it Clever Delegates’ Choice Award at the 2018 Universities Australia Higher Education conference.
Dr Richter was the South Australian winner of Fresh Science, a national program that helps early-career researchers find and share their stories of discovery.
In 2017 Fresh Science celebrated its 20th birthday, and ran in every mainland state with 140 early-career researchers nominating for the five Fresh Science events held last year in Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth.
Fresh Science South Australia was supported by the University of Adelaide, the South Australian Museum, Flinders University, the University of South Australia and New Scientist.
Dr Katharina Richter Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research; The University of Adelaide email@example.com, +61 (0)412 693 225
Crispin Savage The University of Adelaide, firstname.lastname@example.org, +61 (0)8 8313 7194
Suzannah Lyons Science in Public (for Fresh Science), email@example.com, +61 (0)3 9398 1416, +61 (0)409 689 543
Photos of Katharina are available via the Fresh Science website http://freshscience.org.au/2017/starving-superbugs (password: chocolate). If you click on an image it will open the hi-res version.
Beatrix Potter, pioneering scientist; using whales and fish to trace emerging viruses; travelling back in time; and uniting women in earth and environmental sciences
Female scientists have played a critical role in many scientific discoveries throughout history, but their contributions have often been overlooked.
Ahead of International Women’s Day this Thursday, Macquarie University scientists are celebrating the work of forgotten women of science through history; explaining how their work today is changing the world; and making the case for why women in earth and environmental sciences need to stand together.
- Lesley Hughes researches the impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems. Now she’s celebrating the work of Beatrix Potter and other pioneering but forgotten women of science, through the exhibition Hidden Figures of STEMM.
- Evolutionary biologist Jemma Geoghegan is using whales and fish to better understand how new viruses emerge.
- Kira Westaway uses glowing grains of sand to travel back in time. Her work has transformed our understanding of human evolution.
- Volcanologist Heather Handley’s research into volcanoes in the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ is improving our understanding of volcanic hazards. She’s also the co-founder and chair of new network Women in Earth and Environmental Sciences Australasia (WOMESSA).
More on each of these stories and how to contact the scientists below.
Suzannah Lyons 0409 689 543, firstname.lastname@example.org or Niall Byrne 0417 131 977, email@example.com
Beatrix Potter and other pioneering but forgotten women of science
What do the discoveries of plate tectonics, sex chromosomes and the role of carbon dioxide in the greenhouse effect all have in common? They were all discoveries made by women.
Marie Tharp mapped the mid-Atlantic ridge, thus vindicating the theory of plate tectonics, showing how the continents were moving.
Nettie Stevens discovered sex chromosomes, the pieces of DNA that determine the sex of individuals.
And Eunice Foote discovered the greenhouse effect, by recognizing the link between carbon dioxide concentration and global warming.
As for well-known children’s author Beatrix Potter, she was also a talented mycologist—someone who studies fungi. Beatrix meticulously observed fungi growing and made hundreds of scientifically accurate paintings of different species during her lifetime.
Macquarie University’s Distinguished Professors Lesley Hughes and Michael Gillings have collected the stories of these women and many other great female scientists for a photo exhibition entitled Hidden Figures of STEMM.
To arrange an Interview with Lesley or Michael contact Suzannah Lyons on 0409 689 543, firstname.lastname@example.org or Niall Byrne on 0417 131 977, email@example.com.
Using whales and fish to trace emerging viruses
Using whales and fish, Dr Jemma Geoghegan is better able to understand how new viruses appear.
Viruses are abundant in marine and freshwater environments and it’s likely that fish harbour a greater diversity of viruses than any other class of vertebrate.
These viruses could be the ancestors of viruses that will infect a broad range of hosts, including humans.
Marine mammals, such as whales, share this aquatic environment and so provide an opportunity to study viruses across different host types and draw comparisons with their terrestrial counterparts.
Jemma is only available on Monday, 5 March and Tuesday, 6 March, and can be contacted on 0424 228 744.
Travelling back in time
Using glowing grains of sand, Associate Professor Kira Westaway is able to travel back in time and discover the past evolution of the human race.
She’s established that Homo floresiensis (‘Hobbit’) lived in Liang Bua, western Flores until 60-50,000 years ago, and humans were living in Southeast Asia at Tam Pa Ling, northern Laos and in western Sumatra between 48-73,000 years ago – pushing back the earliest evidence of their arrival by approximately 20,000 years.
Kira can be contacted on 0424 285 977.
Uniting women in earth and environmental sciences
While she’s improving our understanding of volcanic hazards in the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’, Associate Professor Heather Handley is also looking at how to better support all women working in earth and environmental sciences in Australasia.
She’s the co-founder and chair of Women in Earth and Environmental Sciences Australasia (WOMESSA).
The new network, which will be launched on International Women’s Day, aims to unify women across these fields, whether they’re working in academia, government or industry.
“Women are often underrepresented in earth and environmental sciences,” says Heather, “so there is a need to support women working in these fields by building a supportive community. We hope this will also facilitate greater collaboration.”
“In particular, we want to support women at critical stages of their career that often leave employment, such as early career researchers and those with carer responsibilities.”
Heather can be contacted on 0406 752 354.
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