KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 17 ― A 25-year-old Malaysian studying at Melbourne University has made a game-changing discovery in medicine on a possible alternative to antibiotics.
Reports said that Shu Lam, who’s a PhD candidate at the Australian varsity, has developed a chain of star-shaped polymer molecules that can kill superbugs, which are bacteria resistant to antibiotics, after three-and-a-half years of research during her thesis work.
The chain of star-shaped polymers, which are large molecules, can reportedly kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria without harming healthy cells.
“What I've discovered is a class of new antimicrobial agents. We hope that these will be replacements for antibiotics.
“They come in the form of tiny star-shaped molecules that we can make in our lab and they're made from short chains of proteins,” Lam told ABC’s Hack in a report published Wednesday.
CNBC reported last May a global review on antimicrobial resistance that said superbugs could kill 10 million people annually and cost cumulatively US$100 trillion (RM413.6 trillion) of economic output by 2050, dubbing drug-resistant infections as “one of the biggest health threats that mankind currently faces”.
Lam told Hack that the star-shaped polymers were tested on mice infected with a superbug and they proved to be effective in killing the antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
“Well, obviously we need to do more research to assess if these molecules have any other side-effects on the body, but currently, the preliminary results are showing that they kill the bacteria but not the healthy cells of the body.
“One of the ways it kills bacteria is by drastically ripping apart the walls of a bacteria cell and that makes it really hard for the bacteria to resist that treatment,” the 25-year-old from Melbourne University’s School of Engineering was quoted saying.
Her research was reportedly published this week in the Nature Microbiology research journal.
Lam’s PhD supervisor, Professor Greg Qiao, told South China Morning Post’s This Week in Asia that his student’s research was still in the early stages and that much more work must be done to verify the best formula and structure, and to reduce the dosage and to do more tests on toxicity before the substance is considered safe for human cells.
“Even with all the money in the world, it would take at least five years to go to the first human test, because many resources and work are needed for its commercialisation,” Qiao was quoted saying.
This Week in Asia’s report published yesterday reported that Lam had moved to Australia for her foundation studies after schooling in Malaysia and would likely stay on in Australia after graduating at the end of the year.
“My main preference would be to continue to stay in research, but I am also looking at career fields outside of polymer research,” Lam was quoted saying.
Lam’s group of scientists is also reportedly looking at the use of polymers to treat cancer.
Malaysian Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam warned medical practitioners in December 2014 against prescribing antibiotics indiscriminately, citing a national study that showed growing antimicrobial resistance.