- Sansanmycin is an antibiotic compound produced by soil bacterium
- By preventing cell wall growth, sansanmycin can fight tuberculosis-causing bacterium
- Sansanmycin may be used to fight antibiotic-resistant TB
An Ancient Foe
Imagine an epidemic that plagues every country in the world, affecting fifty times more people than the 2014 Ebola outbreak. This threat isn’t some new viral disease. It’s an ancient enemy, one that humans have been fighting since the time of the Pharaohs: tuberculosis (TB). In 2015 alone, 10.4 million people were infected with TB, a disease caused by a bacterium that usually starts in the lungs but can spread to other organs. Even today, the disease remains a killer. According to the Center for Disease Control, there were 1.8 million TB-related deaths worldwide in 2015.
Tuberculosis, like many infectious bacterial diseases, is becoming harder to combat because the organism that causes it has become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it. These drug resistant strains of TB have become increasingly common, resulting in 580,000 cases of MDR-TB, or multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis, every year, according to the TB Alliance.
But now, TB and even MDR-TB may have potentially have met their match, thanks to sansanmycin. Sansanmycin, a naturally-occurring antibiotic produced by a bacterial species found in soil, works in a new way to control the bacterium that causes TB.
A Closer Look at Sansanmycin
Dr. Tim Bugg, a professor at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, and colleagues from other universities have now expanded upon initial research and shown why sansanmycin effectively controls TB.
The key to sansanmycin’s function is an enzyme called MraY, which plays an important part in creating the bacterium’s cell wall. Without an effective cell wall, excess water can enter the cell, causing it to swell and ultimately burst like an overinflated balloon.
Dr. Bugg and his team were able to not only identify how sansanmycin worked but also improve the compound by creating variations that showed even higher anti-TB activity.
Next Steps: Anti-TB Chemotherapy
Despite their progress, their work is far from complete. In order for sansanmycin to become an approved tuberculosis treatment, it must undergo many rounds of testing and improvement. When asked what he hoped would come out of the team’s work, Dr. Bugg responded, “these compounds could be potential lead compounds for anti-TB chemotherapy, which are urgently needed to combat antibiotic-resistant varieties of TB around the world.”
The development of new antibiotics to treat antibiotic-resistant TB is essential and this research could be groundbreaking. Perhaps one day, our ancient enemy can be conquered at last—imagine that!
Dr. Tim Bugg is a professor of Biological Chemistry at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England. He has studied enzymes involved in bacterial cell wall synthesis since his post-doctoral work at Harvard Medical School in 1989. He is excited to be part of a potential new breakthrough in treating antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis and hopes that it may save lives in the future.
- Ebola: Mapping the outbreak. (2016, January 14). Retrieved August 18, 2017, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-28755033
- PICARD, A. (2016, July 20). HIV and tuberculosis are the world’s most deadly duo. Retrieved August 18, 2017, from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/hiv-and-tuberculosis-are-the-worlds-most-deadly-duo/article31028878/
- Tran, A. T., Watson, E. E., Pujari, V., Conroy, T., Dowman, L. J., Giltrap, A. M., . . . Payne, R. J. (2017). Sansanmycin natural product analogues as potent and selective anti-mycobacterials that inhibit lipid I biosynthesis. Retrieved August 18, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5337940/
- Global Pandemic. (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2017, from https://www.tballiance.org/why-new-tb-drugs/global-pandemic
- Dr. Tim Bugg in discussion with the author, August 2017
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