Health officials fear that lifesaving drugs can lose their effectiveness when overused. They are especially concerned about anti-microbial additives, found in everything from kitchen cleaners to face soaps, because the bacteria they try to kill are becoming resistant. Clemson University scientists have found a new bacteria fighter that does not promote bacterial resistance.
Food microbiologist Susan Barefoot and doctoral student researcher Priya Ratnam uncovered a new acne treatment that attacks bacteria unlike conventional commercial compounds. They have signed an agreement with a company to explore moving their find from lab to marketplace.
The team made their discovery as they searched for proteins that act as natural food preservatives. Called a bacteriocin, the protein is a tiny bit of antibiotic-like matter produced by the bacteria used to make Swiss cheese.
"It was really serendipity," Barefoot said. "We were looking for a bacteriocin from a close relative of the Swiss cheese bacteria. We found one, but it did not work as a new food preservative. After some discussion, we wondered if the bacteriocin would be effective against acne bacteria which are more distant relatives to the Swiss cheese bacteria."
The researchers have contracted with ImmuCell Corporation, a Portland, Maine -based biotechnology company, to jointly develop their work. ImmuCell produces innovative and proprietary products that improve animal health and productivity in the dairy and beef industry.
ImmuCell also is developing veterinary, environmental and skin-cleaning uses of the anti-microbial Nisin, another bacteriocin.
"ImmuCell is very excited about the potential for the anti-microbial Nisin to prevent acne, and together with Dr. Barefoot's new anti-microbial, Jenseniin P, we have the potential to make a very potent product," said Richard T. Coughlin, the firm's senior director of research and development. "Such a product could reduce the use of conventional antibiotics to treat non-life-threatening diseases and the rise in antibiotics resistant bacteria."
Through the Greenville Hospital System-Clemson University Biomedical Cooperative, Barefoot secured acne samples from dermatologists Eric Baker and Patricia Westmoreland. The Clemson researchers then isolated 150 acne bacteria to test the bacteriocin's effectiveness.
"The acne bacteria was controlled in every single test," said Barefoot. "Every strain, every culture, two different testing methods -- all had the same results."
Scientific investigators do not expect 100-percent success rates, so Barefoot and her colleagues were somewhat incredulous and cautious about their findings.
"We must understand how it works and develop a method to produce enough bacteriocin for further testing," she said, adding that it is comparable to generating 55 gallons of material to collect a tiny straight pin of usable product.
The Clemson-based S.C. Agriculture and Forestry Research System and the Greenville Hospital System-Clemson University Biomedical Cooperative provide funding for the research.
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