Bacteria busting proteins offer potential for smarter drugs

A specific group of bacteria-killing proteins inside the immune system could hold the key to developing smarter and more effective drugs capable of eliminating certain infectious diseases including meningitis, pneumonia and sepsis, according to scientists from The Australian National University (ANU).

In a new study published in Nature Communications, the ANU researchers demonstrate the potential of these immune proteins, known as guanylate-binding proteins (GBPs), to directly bind to and kill specific types of bacteria.

In addition to laying the foundation for new treatments, these killer proteins can also be used in combination with existing antibiotics to give doctors more options when treating certain types of infectious diseases.

Lead author and PhD scholar Shouya Feng, from The John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) said this specific type of protein works by “busting open” bacteria — similar to an axe splitting wood in two — destroying the membrane and causing it to die.

“Our immune system is equipped with weapons that can destroy germs. When foreign bodies, such as bacteria, enter our body the immune system triggers a defensive response,” Ms Feng said.

“We believe we can extract and harness the power of these immune system proteins, known as GBP1, and use them to treat a range of infectious diseases, without negatively affecting our body’s cells.”

Co-author Professor Si Ming Man, also from JCSMR, said disease-causing microbes are continually adapting to and outsmarting current drug treatments, and scientists are always looking to uncover new ways to develop more effective solutions.

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