Professor Jose Bengoechea, the Centre Director at the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University has spent much of his research career studying about the bacteria Klebsiella pneumoniae, which is one of the most common causes of lung infection during pneumonia.
Pneumonia is a serious inflammatory condition of the lungs, which is responsible for over 5% of all deaths in the UK each year, equivalent to over 3.2 million and also remains the leading infectious cause of death among children under five worldwide.
During a chance conversation between Prof Bengoechea, Professor Cliff Taggart (a researcher at the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine) and their colleague Professor Chris Scott (at the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology) at Queen’s university, the researchers realized that an idea Professor Scott was developing for cancer treatment could also be used for tackling the deadly Klebsiella infections.
Professor Bengoechea explains: “This microbe is a particularly difficult bug to treat due to increasing number of isolates resistant to virtually all currently available antibiotics.
“It actually hides in the lung by sneaking inside immune cells, making it exceptionally hard to access with antibiotics. This hidden infection can then re-emerge and cause pneumonia in patients.”
It was the discussion of Professor Scott’s lab work using nanotechnology to target chemotherapy directly into cancer cells when the researchers realized that the same targeted approach could be used to get antibiotics directly to the deadly bacteria lurking in infected immune cells.
Professor Scott explains: “This is a perfect example of how thinking out of the box and combining very different expertise, you can have a eureka moment!
In this study, the researchers generated and evaluated gentamicin-loaded nanoparticles (GNPs) that were targeted at K. pneumoniae, hiding within the cells. Their research proved that these GNPs could improve survival and provide extended prophylactic protection towards K. pneumoniae. They further showed that these GNPs could be phagocytosed by K. pneumoniae infected macrophages, significantly reducing the viability of the bacteria, without causing an inflammatory storm in the cells.
The future holds a lot of potential for these antibiotic-loaded nanoparticles to treat intracellular K. pneumoniae infection. The Queen’s team is planning to continue further research within the next 5 years to achieve a better understanding of how best to treat patients with pneumonia with this specialized technology.
The research team’s findings have recently been published in the prestigious leading journal, Journal of Controlled Release.