Native fungi could hold the answer to global antibiotic resistance threat

New Zealand’s native fungi could hold the answer to the antibiotic resistance crisis.

Amid growing concern over the need to combat antibiotic resistance – considered one of the greatest public health threats of the modern age – a campaign has been launched to determine if a collection of fungi, unique to New Zealand and the Pacific, could hold the key to discovering new antibiotics.

Cure Kids, the nation’s leading charitable funder of child health research, kicks off its ‘Fight Against Superbugs’ crowdfunding campaign today.

“Countries all around the world have been asked to act now. New Zealand may be a small nation, but our native fungi and our unique biodiversity could provide an answer to this global problem. If we don’t act now and discover new medicines, it is predicted that within a generation, antibiotic resistance will overtake cancer as the leading cause of premature death worldwide,” says Cure Kids Research Director Tim Edmonds.

Each year, an estimated 700,000 people around the world die from drug-resistant infections, and this is predicted to rise to 10 million people a year by 2050.

The ‘Fight Against Superbugs’ campaign aims to raise $250,000 to support pioneering research by scientists at the University of Auckland who will study fungi from a collection by Landcare Research. Fungi are a proven source of antibiotics, such as penicillin, and most antibiotics in clinical use are from soil microbes.

Microbiologist, Dr Siouxsie Wiles, head of the Bioluminescent Superbugs Lab at the University, and her team aim to mine 1000 prioritised fungi from the collection of 10,000 over the next 12 months to identify pathogen-fighting properties.

The results of the work to date are promising – Dr Wiles’ team have piloted the approach, screening 300 fungi, using a cultivated form of bacteria that’s been engineered to glow when alive. When the bacteria stop glowing, it signals potential antimicrobial qualities in the fungi which then undergo more tests.

“We’re really hopeful that we will make rapid progress in our search for new antibiotics. Children are at increased risk and more vulnerable to infectious diseases. We are particularly hopeful we will identify fungi that are able to kill the bacteria responsible for many of the serious diseases rife in New Zealand such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA),” says Dr Wiles.

Microbiologist, Dr Siouxsie Wiles, head of the Bioluminescent Superbugs Lab at the University of Auckland

New Zealand has some of the highest rates of infectious diseases in the developed world. This is coupled with high rates of antibiotic consumption. Infectious diseases, such as MRSA, can cause skin, respiratory and bloodstream infections. Most at risk of this potential killer are children under five and people over 65.

“We are running out of time, we need to find a solution,” says Dr Wiles. “While current antibiotics have proved highly effective in the defence against infectious diseases, common bacteria regularly develop new strains that resist these antibiotics.”

Dr Wiles recently published her book ‘Antibiotic resistance – the end of modern medicine?’, which explores the threat to humans, agriculture and animals from superbugs and antibiotic resistance. In the book, Wiles says antimicrobial resistance threatens to undo many of the medical achievements of the last century.

Since Cure Kids began supporting the project’s pilot programme 18 months ago, the organisation has received generous donations from individuals and businesses to help with the research, but more support is needed to move it into this next phase.
“We’re so grateful for the support we’ve had to date. Now we’re inviting the wider community to help us raise the $250,000 needed to progress this project so a further 1000 fungi can be screened and analysed over the next 12 months,” says Edmonds.

Every pledge counts and those who give certain amounts will receive special rewards. A $30 donation sees the donor receive the chance to ‘nick-name’ one of the fungi being tested; a $50 donation receives a limited-edition print from New Zealand artist Otis Frizzell; a $100 donation will give the donor a glowing bacteria art kit. Pledges over $1000 will give the donor an opportunity to take part in a one-hour bioluminescent session (painting with glowing bacteria) with Dr Siouxsie Wiles.

“We know that antibiotic resistance is an issue many New Zealanders are concerned about. Particularly for those children at greatest risk of infections. However, it can also seem like too big a problem to know how to help. This campaign gives everyone an opportunity to contribute and play a vital part in enabling our leading experts to search for an answer to this crisis.”

To show your support visit before 8 June or donate here to join the ‘Fight Against Superbugs’.

Fight Against Superbugs

The world is running out of antibiotics. In fact, it is one of the greatest threats to health today.Cure Kids ambassador and superhero Addison was left fighting for her life after what started as a minor infection. Antibiotics saved Addison's life, but a world without them is the reality we're facing.Cure Kids is leading the way to find new treatments for antibiotic-resistant superbugs.Please join us in the #fightagainstsuperbugs:

Posted by Cure Kids on Sunday, May 7, 2017