Tasmanian Devil Milk Could Help Global Fight Against Drug-Resistant Superbugs


Tasmanian devil milk could be the answer to the global war against potentially deadly superbugs.

Findings of a new study have revealed that milk from the Tasmanian devil, an endangered species of marsupial found in Australia, contains antimicrobial compounds that are capable of killing disease-causing pathogens, which include antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as the Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA.

Researchers from Sydney University scanned the genome of the Tasmanian devil and found six different types of naturally occurring antimicrobial compounds.

After synthesizing these in the lab, the researchers tested their effectiveness at fighting and killing a number of drug-resistant bacteria and fungi. They found that the compounds are capable of killing staph, known to cause pneumonia, food poisoning and toxic shock syndrome.

The compounds were likewise found capable of fighting the vancomycin antibiotic-resistant enterococcus that can cause meningitis and urinary tract infections (UTI). Vancomycin is a potent antibiotic and there are not a lot of available options for treating bugs that are resistant to this drug.

The compounds also killed a potentially fatal species of yeast called Candida krusei and the hyper-virulent fungus Cryptococcus gattii.

Experts agree that there is an urgent need for new drugs that can fight treatment-resistant infections.

It is estimated that superbugs that can resist antimicrobials are responsible for 700,000 deaths per year. Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that antibiotic-resistant bacteria was responsible for one in every seven infections in some U.S. hospitals.

A report by the Review of Antimicrobial Resistance likewise showed that drug-resistant bug will kill every 3 seconds, which is equivalent to about 10 million lives per year, come 2050. This rate will cost a loss of $100 trillion worldwide if nothing gets done about the risks posed by drug-resistant infections.

Antimicrobial resistance is a concern because it can make medical procedures more dangerous to perform.

The findings of the study on Tasmanian devil milk, which was published in Scientific Reports on Oct. 11, may hopefully help in the development of new drugs that would play a vital role in the global fight against superbugs, as researchers see potentials in the compounds found in the marsupial's milk in fighting drug-resistant pathogens.

"Tasmanian devil cathelicidins Saha-CATH5 and 6 are potential candidates for drug development. Their broad-spectrum antibacterial activity and ability to kill MRSA and VREF could translate into numerous therapeutic applications," wrote study researcher Emma Peel and colleagues from the University of Sydney in Australia.

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