Author: Alec Basson


Dr Du Preez van Staden

The health industry is facing an uphill battle against disease-causing bacteria that have become resistant to commonly used antibiotics. And with very few new antibiotics making it through the discovery pipeline, the lives of millions around the world could be at stake.

It is therefore imperative that we find alternatives to traditional antibiotics as soon as possible, says Dr Du Preez van Staden who recently obtained his doctorate in Microbiology from Stellenbosch University (SU). He conducted his research under the supervision of Prof Leon Dicks of SU’s Department of Microbiology.

In his quest to discover new antibiotics, Van Staden dug through bacteria-rich Fynbos soils in search for antimicrobial-producing bacteria. He specifically focused on a group of peptide antibiotics, known as lantibiotics, which have a similar mode of action to that of a potent antibiotic, vancomycin, used to treat a number of bacterial infections.

Van Staden says of the two lantibiotic-producing bacteria found, one produces a new lantibiotic with two peptides that work together to kill disease-causing bacteria.

After having isolated the two lantibiotic-producing bacteria from Fynbos soil, Van Staden used different techniques to test their potential to inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Staphylococcus aureus is one of the major bacteria involved in antibiotic resistant skin infections in hospitals. He also tested the effectiveness of lantibiotics in the treatment of Staphylococcus aureus induced skin infection in mice.

“Results showed that the bacteria from Fynbos soils produced lantibiotics that are active against a range of bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.”

“We also found that these lantibiotics were just as effective as a well-known commercially available product used for the treatment of skin infections and did not negatively affect wound healing.

“The role lantibiotics may play in wound healing is currently being investigated,” adds Van Staden.

He says that apart from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, lantibiotics also have the potential to help fight bacteria that cause abdominal infections, crusting blisters on the skin, infections of medical implants and soft tissue under the skin, gastroenteritis, infection/inflammation of the back of the throat and scarlet fever.

“Lantibiotics could be an attractive alternative to traditional antibiotics/antimicrobial treatments and could also be used in conjunction with commercially available antimicrobial products for a more effective reduction in bacterial resistance.”

He says his research could have a significant health impact because skin and soft tissue infections are the most common types of infections which are exacerbated by the increase in antibiotic resistance.

  • ​Dr Du Preez van Staden is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Physiological Sciences at Stellenbosch University.
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