Scientists Strive to Knock Out Hospital `Superbugs'

Doctors from the University of Edinburgh and local intensive care units have linked to fight an antibiotic-resistant infection which attacks some hospital patients. The scientists aim to find new treatments for ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) at a time when bacteria resistant to antibiotics are emerging faster than the pharmaceutical industry can produce new drugs to combat hospital-acquired infections. It is estimated that as many as 20 percent of patients who require treatment on a ventilator machine may develop VAP and the infection is fatal in a high proportion of these patients.

The lung is known to make its own antibacterial substances, but these are overwhelmed by bacteria during severe infection. The new five-year Edinburgh study, which begins in May, will look first at the way the lung produces antibacterial substances. Researchers then hope to discover which of the lung's natural antibiotics are most deficient during severe pneumonia and design the best ways to deliver genes producing these antibiotics to the diseased lung.

Dr John Simpson, leading the project, explained, " We plan to boost expression of these naturally occurring genes in white blood cells which are programmed to travel from the bloodstream to the infected lung. In this way, the `highjacked' blood cells will carry the antibiotic genes to exactly where they are most needed. We will take blood and samples of fluid from the lungs of patients with VAP to see if natural antibiotics and the cells which fight infection are able to function normally in their infected environment. The next step is to identify the best combination of therapeutic genes to be developed in the laboratory, in the hope that we can make the body's cells and natural antibiotics clear severe pneumonia more efficiently. We hope that studying patients and healthy volunteers will pave the way for clinical trials of gene therapy for VAP, towards the end of the five-year program. If successful, we could use the knowledge to tackle other hospital-acquired infections."

Simpson, a senior clinical lecturer and honorary consultant in respiratory medicine, was awarded the Sir Jules Thorn Award for Biomedical Research 2003, the first time the award has been made to a Scottish University. The £970,000 award from the Sir Jules Thorns Charitable Trust, an independent medical research charity, will support the five-year research program.

Source: University of Edinburgh

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