British scientists have developed an antibiotic from breast milk capable of destroying drug-resistant bacteria. The discovery made by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and University College London, is being hailed as a major breakthrough in the race to contain the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria called ‘super bugs’ that kill about 10,000 Britons each year.
A panel set up by Britain Prime Minister, David Cameron, predict that they would lose million lives and £700 billion a year worldwide by 2050 if the problem went unchecked.
The researchers found out that breast milk contains important protein that could also be turned into an “artificial virus” that could fight drug-resistant bacteria in human cells.
Minuscule fragment, less than a nanometer in width, is responsible for giving the protein its anti-microbial properties. This is what makes breast milk so important in protecting infants from disease in their first months of life. The protein, called lactoferrin, effectively kills bacteria, fungi and even viruses on contact.
After identifying the fragment, they re-engineered it into a virus-like capsule that can recognize and target specific bacteria and damage them on contact, but without affecting any surrounding human cells.
The scientists also say the antibiotic works by rewriting a cell’s DNA to tear bacteria apart within a fraction of a second – making it impossible for them to evolve defenses and that the drug could also be used to treat genetic diseases, such as sickle cell anaemia.
A student who worked on the project, said: “The capsules acted as projectiles…with bullet speed and efficiency.”
The team suggested this could help the fight against antibiotic resistance by serving as “delivery vehicles” for cures. The capsules could even pave the way for treatments for previously incurable conditions such as sickle-cell disease, cystic fibrosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Chief Medical Officer for England called on other experts to work with them in tackling the antibiotic issue which has become a global problem.
“We need on average 10 new antibiotics every decade. If others do not work with us, it’s not something we can sort on our own, this is a global problem. I am optimistic about this. The science is crackable. It’s do-able,” she said.
Breast milk is essential to a baby’s growth and development while the immune system starts to boost and acts as a baby’s first vaccine to help fight disease and illness. Research have shown that children who are breast-fed longer have higher intelligence than those who are breast-fed for shorter periods. But will this discovery also send men competing for the ‘mammary gland’ with their babies?