Synthetic mucus, solution antibiotic resistance

By Ebele Orakpo

Since men have learnt to shoot without missing, Eneke the bird has learnt to fly without perching – Things Fall Apart
This aptly describes microorganisms’ resistance to antibiotics. The rising cases of antibiotic resistance is a big threat to health. A patient religiously takes his recommended medicines and yet, his situation worsens instead of getting better. Most times, the problem has been traced to drug resistance by the causative organisms. In some cases, the organisms change certain aspects of their makeup just to survive and thrive in adversity. It was a big relief when researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), led by Prof. Katharina Ribbeck, professor of tissue engineering, discovered that synthetic mucus may be the answer to antibiotic resistance.They studied and replicated mucus’ natural ability to control disease-causing bacteria. Excerpts:

MUCUS is the slimy and stringy fluid secreted by the mucous membranes and glands of animals and man for lubrication, protection and acts as a trap for irritants like dust, smoke, or bacteria and so protects humans  from invasion of disease-causing microorganisms.

“I am so excited about mucus because I am convinced it can help us find new strategies for protecting us from infections, in particular those that relate to an overgrowth of harmful microbes,”  said Ribbeck in a statement.

“My lab and others around the world have begun to engineer mucin (component of mucus)-inspired polymers and synthetic mucus. We want to use these engineered polymers to control problematic pathogens inside and outside of the body and to stop the growing threat of antibiotic resistant microbes,” she added.

Antibiotic resistant microbes

“Over millions of years, the mucus has evolved the ability to keep a number of these problematic pathogenic microbes in check, preventing them from causing damage,” Ribbeck said, adding that the mucus does not kill the microbes but tames them.

The researchers grew two types of bacteria – streptococcus mutans which form in cavities and streptococcus sanguinis, which is associated with healthy oral conditions.

The more harmful one, streptococcus mutans, grew so quickly and outgrew Streptococcus sanguinis when they were grown together outside of saliva or mucin-containing media. When grown in the presence of MUC5B – the mucin found in saliva – the two bacterial species established a more even balance.

From this result, the researchers concluded that mucin could be instrumental in supporting greater bacterial diversity. “We conclude from these findings that MUC5B may help prevent diseases such as dental caries [cavities] by reducing the potential that a single harmful species will dominate,” Ribbeck said.


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