Nova Scotia fungus breathes life into fight against superbugs

McMaster grad student Andrew King with fungal sample. PHOTO: MCMASTER UNIVERSITY/HO.

McMaster grad student Andrew King with fungal sample. PHOTO: MCMASTER UNIVERSITY/HO.

Published: June 25, 2014

A lowly soil fungus from Nova Scotia has provided scientists with a powerful new weapon against some of the most alarming microbes on the planet.

A molecule, which a team at McMaster University plucked from the fungus, is enabling them to kill “superbugs” resistant to antibiotics.

The molecule, aspergillomarasmine A or AMA, latches on to a protein inside the bacteria and “rips out” zinc rendering the superbugs defenceless against powerful antibiotics it could previously resist, says microbiologist Gerry Wright, who heads the team in Hamilton, Ont.

Once they uncovered AMA, the researchers teamed up with a British microbiologist and showed the fungal extract had the same effect on more than 200 superbugs that have been causing misery around the world.

Then to underscore AMA’s promise, the researchers showed that by using the fungal compound in combination with an antibiotic protected lab mice infected with an otherwise lethal strain of resistant pneumonia.

Scientists says the findings, to be reported Thursday in the Journal Nature, offer hope in the battle against resistant bacteria causing growing international alarm. Continue reading

Superbugs are on the rise in Canada, but not as fast as WHO suggests

Drug resistant gonorrhea under a microscope. PHOTO: THE CANADIAN PRES/PUBLIC HEALTH ONTARIO

Drug resistant gonorrhea under a microscope.
PHOTO: THE CANADIAN PRES/PUBLIC HEALTH ONTARIO

Published: May 1, 2014

A World Health Organization report on superbugs suggests Canada has one of highest rates of drug resistant gonorrhea in the world.

But Canadian health officials say they have no idea where the international agency got the data indicating 31 per cent of the microbes causing the sexually transmitted disease in Canada show resistance to third-generation cephalosporins, an antibiotic of last resort.

“We just don’t know where they pulled that number from,” says Michael Mulvey, who tracks resistant organisms for the Public Health Agency of Canada. Continue reading

Nightmare microbes could end the ‘antibiotic miracle’

Dr Michael Mulvey (R), Chief of Antimicrobial Resistance and Nosocomial Infections and biologist Tim Du check C Diff cell growth at the National Microbiology Laboratory in the Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health in Winnipeg.
Dr Michael Mulvey (R), Chief of Antimicrobial Resistance and Nosocomial Infections and biologist Tim Du check C Diff cell growth at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. (JOHN WOODS PHOTO FOR POSTMEDIA NEWS)
Published November 12, 2013
Ronald Hale was admitted to Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital with complications following lung surgery. The 74-year-old retired mine manager died days later, his body overwhelmed by a nightmarish bacterium from half a world away.

An Alberta woman, who had been in a rickshaw accident in India, had carried the microbe home and it got loose in the Royal Alex. Hale became infected and died when he could not fight off the microbe, which has acquired the biochemical machinery to evade nearly all antibiotics on the shelf.

While still rare in Canada, Britain and the U.S. are both struggling to contain these alarming microbes, which could spell the end of the antibiotic miracle.

Leading health officials are warning of a “catastrophic” threat, and Canadian doctors are calling for action to prevent the organisms from taking hold here.

Continue reading