Breast milk protein fights back superbugs

U. BUFFALO (US) — A protein complex found in human breast milk can help reverse the antibiotic resistance of some bacteria that cause dangerous pneumonia and staph infections, new research shows.

In petri dish and animal experiments, the protein complex—called Hamlet—increased bacteria’s sensitivity to multiple classes of antibiotics, including penicillin and erythromycin.

The effect was so pronounced that bacteria including penicillin-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) regained sensitivity to the antibiotics they were previously able to beat.


“Hamlet has the potential to minimize the concentrations of antibiotics we need to use to fight infections, and enable us to use well-established antibiotics against resistant strains again,” says Anders Hakansson, lead researcher and assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the University at Buffalo.

The findings, published in the journal PLoS One, hold great promise in an era when hospitals are struggling to contain drug-resistant “superbugs” like MRSA, the culprit behind lethal hospital-acquired staph infections.

Bacteria seem to have difficulty developing resistance to Hamlet, dying in huge numbers even after being exposed to it for many generations.

“Unlike synthetic drugs, Hamlet is a naturally occurring human milk protein-lipid complex, and so is not associated with the types of toxic side effects that we so frequently see with the high-powered antibiotics needed to kill drug-resistant organisms,” adds Laura Marks, an MD/PhD student in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The idea to test the protein in combination with other antibiotics was inspired, in part, by a presentation Marks saw on using drug cocktails to treat HIV.

“What really hit home for me in this lecture was the idea of using drug combinations where each drug had a different mechanism that could enhance the action of the other drug as an appealing way to optimize therapy for resistant organisms,” she says. “I was immediately curious to see if using Hamlet together with existing therapies could result in synergistic interactions.”

Source: University at Buffalo

Related Articles