Battling a sticky enemy: GlycoNet investigators develop strategies for combating bacterial biofilms

Biofilms are a sticky, slime-like force field that shelter bacteria and fungi within their protective barrier. They are also what often keeps your immune system from getting the job done when fighting infections, and make bacteria and fungi up to 1,000 times more tolerant of antibiotics.

But what if scientists could stop these biofilms from forming? A GlycoNet project aims to do just this, and thanks to some early success, the project has received $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Defense.

“The preliminary data has already generated some exciting results,” says Dr. Lynne Howell, GlycoNet investigator and a researcher at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

The team has discovered a set of enzymes, called glycoside hydrolases, which disrupt or prevent biofilms from forming, potentially making infections vastly more treatable.

The project focuses on two pathogens common in pulmonary infections: Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Aspergillus fumigatus. These pathogens often form biofilms, heightening their resistance to antibiotics. Patients with compromised immune systems and chronic lung disease are particularly susceptible to these opportunistic, biofilm-coated pathogens. As a result, morbidity and mortality rates for these infections continue to soar.

“We have demonstrated that glycoside hydrolases can both prevent biofilm formation, as well as disrupt existing biofilms at low concentrations in vitro,” explains Howell.

Funding from the Department of Defense, in addition to GlycoNet’s initial investment, will allow the investigators to optimize strategies to use these glycoside hydrolases to combat pulmonary infections.

“These enzymes could be used as a monotherapy or in combination with other treatments to suppress infections often resistant to antibiotics,” says project investigator Dr. Donald Sheppard (McGill University).

As their research continues, the investigators are also hopeful that this approach could be extended to develop treatments for non-pulmonary infections such as burn or wound infections.

“We’re thrilled at the opportunities that the DoD and GlycoNet funding present,” adds Sheppard. “This research will provide proof-of-concept for the use of glycoside hydrolase therapy for enhancing antibacterial and antifungal therapeutics.”

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