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Infectious Disease

The search for new antibiotics to fight drug-resistant staphylococcal skin infections

Dr Siouxsie Wiles
University of Auckland

What is the problem and who does it affect?

Infectious microbes place a large burden on our health system, causing more than one in four overnight stays in New Zealand hospitals. Worryingly, our rates for infectious diseases are higher than those of similarly developed countries. Skin infections alone are estimated to cost District Health Boards up to $15 million a year, reducing their capacity in other areas.

Another common problem is that many infectious microbes are becoming resistant to antibiotics, making them difficult to treat. Drastic action is required to stave off a return to the pre-antibiotic era.
Of particular relevance to Kiwi kids is the ‘superbug’ Staphylococcus aureus. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of S. aureus in the developing world at over 400 per 100,000. A disproportionate burden of disease falls on Maori and Pacific peoples.

What is this project hoping to achieve?

Recognising the urgency of the situation, this project aims to create a lab model of S. aureus skin infection that is suitable for rapid testing of a wide range of antimicrobials.

Infectious microbes behave in different ways depending on whether they are living on human skin or being cultivated in a lab. For example, bacteria living in the lab have adapted in an antibiotic-free environment which is very different to the real world. Discovery of new antibiotics could be greatly improved by the rapid screening of more relevant, antibiotic resistant clinical isolates in more relevant environments.

The second objective of the study is to screen a unique collection of native New Zealand fungi that have yet to be rigorously tested for new antibiotics. This project aims to cultivate these fungi and test them for new antibiotics that can kill antibiotic-resistant S. aureus.

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