Saturday, 24 June 2017

Biofilms - An Update

You may remember some of my early posts about microbial biofilms (The Science Behind Cocowhite (and Product Review) and Bacteria – The Next Frontier). A biofilm is a sticky coating, made by a group of bacteria, which protects them from being killed by your immune system or by antibiotics. They are one of the biggest threats to patients when they are in hospital because they can form quickly on medical devices like artificial hips or knees and are very hard to remove – or so we thought...

A new breakthrough at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) has developed a new technology based on enzymes that can prevent biofilms from forming and also destroy existing ones.
The researchers used the bacteria’s own biofilm building tools to attack and destroy the sugar molecules that hold the whole biofilm together. Attacking and destroying the biofilm first and then going after the unprotected bacteria is a completely new way of tackling this problem. Before, scientists were trying to figure out how to make individual “bullets” to go through the biofilm and kill the bacteria from the inside, with not much luck.
This work was a result of the collaboration between a team lead by Dr Don Sheppard and scientists from Dr P. Lynne Howell’s laboratory. The scientists were looking at how biofilms are made and discovered special enzymes were being used to cut up sugar molecules to build and remodel the biofilm. They realised that they could develop these natural enzymes to be super-powerful so that the sugar wasn’t just cut up, it was destroyed. "We made these enzymes into a biofilm destroying machine that we can use outside the microbe where the sugar molecules are found," says Brendan Snarr, a PhD student in Dr Sheppard’s laboratory.
The scientists have already tested this new way of destroying biofilms in mouse models and have had success. “This has big implications across many microbes, diseases and infections” explained Dr P. Lynne Howell, a University of Toronto Professor in the Department of Biochemistry.
The infections people get which are associated with biofilms are responsible for thousands of deaths every year and are the cause of around 70% of hospital-acquired infections. This completely new way of treating these infections has enormous potential.
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