Researchers develop 'alien' type viruses to tackle superbugs

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Washington, Apr 1 : In a bid to prevent the spread of hospital superbugs, doctors at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland are harnessing bacteria killing viruses to develop new materials impregnated with thousands of tiny beads coated in these viruses.

Stiches and dressings laced with bacteria-killing viruses could be used to stop patients contracting MRSA after surgery, according to the team.

Although they are too small to see with the naked eye, bacteria are also attacked by viruses, but specific ones that only infect bacteria, not human or animal cells. But for bacteria they are like an alien growing inside the bacteria and then bursting out to attack other similar bacteria, continuing their life cycle.

"Some bacteria specific viruses - called bacteriophages - have been used in the past to help clear up infections caused by bacteria, but their use died out when antibiotics like penicillin and methicillin became widely available", said Janice Spencer from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland.

"We are looking at them again now that multiple antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria have become such a problem in hospitals," she added.

The researchers have developed a technique to keep the viruses active for more than 3 weeks, instead of having them die after a few hours, by chemically bonding them to polymers.

The polymers, including nylon, can be in various forms including microscopic beads and strips. Nylon beads can be incorporated into cleaning materials, to decontaminate operating theatres and prevent infections.

It can also be in the form of sutures or wound dressings to decontaminate and prevent wound infection that limits the risk of blood poisoning, which can be life threatening.

Many of the most dangerous bacteria are carried harmlessly on the skin and inside the noses of most healthy people. It is only when a patient's immune system is weakened by illness or when the bacteria can get inside our bodies during an operation, bypassing the surface defences provided by our skin, that the bacteria develop into their most dangerous, virulent form.

"We've also developed a device to rapidly detect MRSA on contaminated surfaces. This will allow us to screen patients before surgery to limit the chances of passing on superbug infections by positively decontaminating patients and isolating them to avoid cross-contamination", said Spencer.

"Patients who are carriers for MRSA can be isolated and decontaminated by using standard methods or by using immobilised bacteriophages incorporated into creams or body washes," she added

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