A chance conversation between researchers at Queen’s University Belfast led to their combined expertise in developing a ground-breaking approach for the treatment of pneumonia.
The research team’s findings have recently been published in the prestigious leading Journal of Controlled Release.
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.
One of the most common causes of pneumonia is lung infection with the bacteria Klebsiella pneumoniae, the very bacteria that Professor Jose Bengoechea, Centre Director at the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University has spent much of his research career studying.
It was a chance conversation between Professor 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 that led to the discovery of this new groundbreaking treatment for pneumonia.
During this conversation the researchers realized that an idea Professor Scott was developing for cancer treatment could also be used for tackling 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 an eureka moment!
“These exciting research findings are very much in line with the research ethos of the University, which is centered on global challenges.
“Pneumonia remains a global health emergency. By developing this treatment that has proven to tackle this deadly strain of bacteria, our research partnership could change the lives of people across the world.”
The Queen’s team are continuing further research within the next 5 years to achieve a better understanding of how best to treat patients with pneumonia with this specialized technology.