Novel treatments to treat antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcal skin infections

Repurposing topical creams using vitamin C and ferrous iron, to kill the superbug staphylococcus aureus

Dr Siouxsie Wiles
University of Auckland

What is the problem and who does it affect?

Infectious microbes are responsible for as many as 1 in 4 hospital admissions in New Zealand. This burden disproportionately falls on Maori and Pacific children, while at the same time, costs DHBs $15m each year. Additional to this, the capacity of medical personnel is stretched, meaning less resources to treat other conditions.

Of particular importance is the superbug staphylococcus aureus (SA), endemic in New Zealand with rates at over 400 per population. From 2007 – 2010, 163 children were classified as having an invasive disease (including musculoskeletal, respiratory and central nervous system) as a result of SA, 12% of which were infected with a strain completely resistant to antibiotic treatment. The first-line treatment for SA skin and soft tissue infections is the topical (applied directly to the skin) cream fusidic acid. Increases in infections, and the overprescription of fusidic acid has resulted in resistant strains of SA which could lead to completely untreatable superbugs.


How is the research being carried out?

While the quest for new antibiotics continues, short-term solutions are necessary to extend the useful life of antibiotics, by formulating them so that SA is resensitised to their attack. A recent discovery by Dr Wiles and her team has found that in the presence of iron, vitamin C is able to kill clinical isolates of SA. Furthermore, it was found that vitamin C was able to resensitise 13/21 clinical isolates to oxacillin, to which they’d previously been resistant. Vitamin C creams are presently used for anti-aging purposes.


What is the research hoping to achieve?

The overarching objective of this project will be to repurpose these current topical creams using vitamin C and ferrous iron, with the end goal of these reformulations killing superbugs. The implications of this work if successful are great. Hundreds of children are admitted to hospital each year with skin or soft tissue infections, and increasingly ineffective treatments are likely to see this incidence increase, without a concomitant increase in treatment options. New topical creams for treatment will mean we will once again have a first line defence against these infections, greatly improving the quality of children’s lives.