The High Impact Articles column is a space where we highlight scientific publications by Malaysian authors. Do let us know via our contact form if you come across any high impact articles by Malaysian scientists and we will feature them in this section!
Title of published paper: Combating multidrug-resistant Gram-negative bacteria with structurally nanoengineered antimicrobial peptide polymers
Link to the full paper: Nature Microbiology 1, Article number: 16162 (2016)
Answers by Shu Jie Lam, a Malaysian researcher based in Melbourne, Australia and one of the authors of the paper.
(i) Impact of this work to the society
We attempted to solve the issue of antimicrobial resistance, where bacteria have evolved and developed resistance against currently available antibiotics. Using our expertise in polymer chemistry and engineering, we developed tiny, star-shaped molecules, known as star peptide polymers that are able to effectively kill a range of Gram-negative bacteria. These include bacteria that have become resistant to most antibiotics, which are commonly known as superbugs. We found that these polymers are able to wipe out a superbug infection in mice without harming healthy cells in the body. We also discovered that the superbugs are not able to become resistant to these polymers. I believe that our research findings mark the beginning of unlocking a new treatment against superbugs.
I started this research as my main PhD project, which commenced 3.5 years ago. Including myself, there were 11 people involved in the work leading to our publication in Nature Microbiology. Our team consists of my supervisor, Prof. Greg Qiao, and several lab members from the Polymer Science Group, Melbourne School of Engineering, as well as our collaborators from the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Sciences (including Prof. Eric Reynolds and A/Prof. Neil O’Brien-Simpson). I was the main person responsible for doing most of the experimental work and putting the publication together. The other team members contributed their intellectual input and with some parts of the experiments.
(iii) What’s next
The research is still at its infancy and we are working very hard to progress this scientific innovation from a pre-clinical stage to clinical trials. So in the next few years, our team will be working on investigating several aspects, such as evaluating if the polymers would work against other bacterial species in vivo, whether they have any side-effects to the host body, and finding the best way to administer them to humans.