Wednesday 21st March 2018
Current Research

Fighting Infection with Artificial Skin



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PROJECT TITLE:  Control of bacterial infection by modification of the host cell surface

PROJECT TIMESCALE:  2 years – 11 July 2016 to 10th July 2019

PHD STUDENT:  Dr Rahaf Issa

(taken from Winter 2016 Newsletter)


Dr Rahaf Issa is working on the HRT-funded project. She is an expert microbiologist

Bacterial infections in older people are a growing threat as the population ages and antibiotics lose their effectiveness. Skin wounds such as ulcers, burns and scalds affect more than 200,000 people at any one time. In the UK; over 3% of the budget of the NHS (£1-2 billion) is spent on ulcer treatment alone, primarily paying for nursing time. As we age, the healing of these wounds is delayed, meaning that the elderly are predisposed to have long-lasting (chronic) wounds. Chronic wounds are an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, for example Staphylococcus aureus.The repeated use of antibiotics invites the development of bacterial resistance (e.g. MRSA) and so new drugs are constantly required.

Adhesion platforms work like Velcro™, allowing bacteria to stick tightly to human cells

Tetraspanins are self-assembling proteins that form structures called ‘adhesion platforms’, that act a bit like Velcro™ which cells use to join together to form tissues. Some types of bacteria have evolved to “hijack” the tetraspanin adhesion platforms so that they can stick to and enter cells. In earlier HRT-funded research, we discovered a set of small tetraspanin fragments (peptides) that are able to stop a wide range of disease-causing bacteria attaching to human cells.

Bright green bacteria infecting blue human skin cells. Treatment with a tetraspanin peptide (right picture) prevents nearly all bacteria from sticking to the cells.

By weakening the interaction with cells, we have shown that bacteria such as MRSA are made much more sensitive to existing antibiotics and so tetraspanin peptides represent an important new intervention. More recently, we have developed a three-dimensional model of human skin that can be used instead of animals to test new antibiotics. Using this system, we have shown that tetraspanin peptides are a safe and effective way of fighting infections that can be used as a combination therapy that gives a new lease of life to antibiotics to which some bacteria have developed resistance. Using human skin that would otherwise be discarded after operations, we can test our peptides without using the mouse model of skin infection.We would like to continue developing the peptides to reach the point where they might be used in human patients, and also to develop a new model of another serious infection, cystitis.


Author: admin