Researchers at the University of Portsmouth have discovered that a naturally-occurring compound found in trees is effective in combating superbugs.

Dr Robert Baldock and his team from the School of Pharmacy & Biomedical Sciences found that hydroquinine, which can be used to treat malaria in humans, has bacterial killing activity against several microorganisms.

He said: "Progressing antimicrobial resistance is one of the greatest threats to public health globally. Without these fundamental drugs, microbial infections that are otherwise readily treatable could become life threatening. Despite this, there has been a ‘void of discovery’ of new antimicrobials becoming available for use. Current efforts largely focus on effective stewardship by reducing, wherever possible, inappropriate or unwarranted use of antimicrobials.

“Antibiotics work by blocking fundamental processes that bacteria use to replicate and survive such as building cell walls, replicating their DNA and making proteins. Over time, bacteria can evade the activity of these drugs. To target these drug resistant bacteria, we need to develop antibiotics that block additional processes required for bacterial survival.

“Recently published research from the University of Portsmouth in collaboration with Naresuan University, Thailand, helped to demonstrate the activity of Hydroquinine against a multidrug resistant bacteria (Pseudomonas aeruginosa). The research demonstrated that this compound, found in tree bark resin interferes with bacterial motility/movement. Further investigations are being undertaken to uncover how this drug works and whether it could potentially be used to treat infections in patients."

Dr Baldock has also investigated the international use of a commonly prescribed family of antibiotics has found discrepancies in the safety data issued by regulatory bodies.

“Significant challenges remain regarding effective and safe antibiotic use", he explained.

"Ongoing research at the University of Portsmouth aims to examine why some patients suffer significant adverse events with a different class of antibiotics known as Fluoroquinolones. 

"Fluoroquinolones are highly effective against a broad range of bacteria, however in rare cases patients report debilitating symptoms which can last beyond the course of treatment. Importantly, if we can identify the causes of these reactions, potentially we can put in place strategies to prevent or minimise the risk of a reaction in patients.”