Teflon Could Defeat Medical Superbugs

21 Aug


Teflon being tested for use with antibiotic

It might let humans use frog-skin poison

Posted Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The same chemical property that keeps eggs from sticking to frying pans may let antibiotics produced by frogs fight off drug-resistant infections in humans, researchers said.

Scientists added Teflon, a nonstick coating made by DuPont for cookware and medical equipment, to molecules of a bacteria-killing substance found on frog skin. In its natural form, the substance, called an antimicrobial peptide, can be broken down in the human body, where it attaches to cells, releases toxic components and dissolves before it has a defensive effect.

The Teflon versions of the antibiotic can stay intact in the body longer and may be safe to use. New drugs with antimicrobial peptides, which kill a wide spectrum of bacteria, may offer treatment to patients infected with drug-resistant “superbugs,” scientists say.

“Right now, if you are unlucky and have these superbugs, we don’t have an antibiotic that will treat you,” said E. Neil Marsh, a chemistry professor who conducted the research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Marsh discussed his findings today at the American Chemical Society’s 234th national meeting in Boston.

“This is one area of medicine that we’re actually going backwards in,” he said in a phone interview. “Things that used to work won’t work anymore.”

Marsh collaborated with fellow University of Michigan chemistry professor, Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy, to make the nonstick antibiotics. Ramamoorthy had been studying antimicrobial peptides, an immune system defense used by all plants and animals and strongest in those most exposed to bacteria.

Frogs produce high levels of the toxic substance to prevent infection on their moist skin. The lethal poisons on some rainforest frogs are “close cousins of an antimicrobial peptide,” Marsh said.

Scientists have been studying the peptides for over 25 years and have struggled to find a way to limit their toxic effects in humans. Marsh’s Teflon version may be the solution.

The manmade material gets its non-stick quality from the element fluorine, which won’t react or bond with almost any other substance, including those inside the human body. That property will possibly make the new antibiotics safer for humans, Marsh said.

Scientists must conduct further experiments using Teflon antibiotics, which could be tested in humans in three to five years, he said.

Teflon is a trademark of DuPont for fluoropolymer resins resistant to high temperatures, chemical reactions, corrosion and stress cracks, according to the company’s Web site.

Polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE, is inert to virtually all chemicals and is considered the most slippery material in existence, according to the company.

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Posted by on August 21, 2007 in Mechanical Plastics, Medical, R&D


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