Scientists at University of Galway have detailed a new discovery with the potential to improve treatment options for superbug MRSA infections with penicillin-type antibiotics that have become ineffective on their own.

Professor James P O’Gara and Dr Merve S Zeden in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, University of Galway, led the study which has been published in the flagship journal of the American Society for Microbiology, mBio.

Professor of Microbiology James O’Gara said: “This discovery is important because it has revealed a potentially new way to treat MRSA infections with penicillin-type drugs, which remain the safest and most effective antibiotics.”

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The microbiology research team at University of Galway showed that MRSA could be much more efficiently killed by penicillin-type antibiotics when combined with purines, which are the building blocks for DNA. 

Dr Zeden said: “Purine nucleosides, Adenosine, Xanthosine, Guanosine are sugar versions of the building blocks of DNA, and our work showed that they interfere with signalling systems in the bacterial cell which are required for antibiotic resistance.”

This study was recently highlighted in the American Society for Microbiology’s This Week in Microbiology (TWiM) podcast, when the discussion noted the drugs derived from purines are already used to treat some viral infections and cancers.

Aaron Nolan is a PhD student at University of Galway and was co-first author on the paper.

He said: “Finding new ways to re-sensitize superbugs to currently licenced antibiotics is a crucial part of efforts to tackle the AMR crisis. Our research implicated the potential of purine nucleosides in re-sensitizing MRSA to penicillin-type antibiotics” 

This research, which was funded by the Health Research Board, Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council, was conducted in collaboration with scientists at Imperial College London and the University of Sheffield.