Healthcare News & Insights

Giant Pandas may hold the cure for drug-resistant superbugs

What do cuddly giant pandas have to offer hospitals? If you’re thinking a cute theme to decorate your children’s ward, that’s a good answer, but the wrong one in this case. According to The Telegraph, scientists have discovered that these endangered bears produce powerful antibiotic in their bloodstream that kills bacteria and fungi.

They believe that the substance, known as cathelicidin-AM, could be used to create potent new treatments against drug-resistant superbugs and other diseases. The antibiotic is released by the bear’s immune system to protect them from infections when they are living in the wild.

Fortunately, scientists won’t have to rely on the mere 1,600 giant pandas in the wild to produce this antibiotic. The researchers have been able to synthesize it artificially in the lab by decoding the genes to produce a small molecule known as a peptide.

Dr. Xiuwen Yan, who led the research at the Life Sciences College of Nanjing Agricultural University in China, said, “It showed potential antimicrobial activities against wide spectrum of microorganisms including bacteria and fungi, both standard and drug-resistant strains.”

Urgent need

The possibility of developing a new type of antimicrobial agent is great news with the increasing presence of microorganisms with drug resistance against conventional antibiotics.

“Gene-encoded antimicrobial peptides play an important role in innate immunity against noxious microorganisms,” said Dr. Yan. “They cause much less drug resistance of microbes than conventional antibiotics.”

This new discovery could very much help the wild life conservationists who are sinking millions into expensive artificial breeding techniques in hopes of increasing giant pandas dwindling numbers. The fact that these animal produce this powerful compounds that can be used to make new drugs will definitely strengthen their cause.

Works faster

Another promising fact is that cathelicidin-AM, which is produced by immune cells in the animal’s blood, was found to kill bacteria in less than an hour while other well known antibiotics took more than six hours.

The researchers hope to develop the substance either as a new drug to tackle superbugs or as an antiseptic for cleaning surfaces and utensils. Dr Yan and his colleagues also believe the panda genome may be hiding other potentially powerful drugs.

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