Researchers Trying Slippery Proteins to Stop Bacterial Skin Infections

Managing Itchy Skin: AAD Dermatologists Share Their Advice

Bacterial skin infections are a persistent threat in hospital settings and often strike at the most vulnerable, such as the elderly or the immune compromised. With more of these bacteria developing into antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’, researchers have been forced to consider more indirect methods of disease prevention.

A group from Sheffield has done just that with an experimental protein treatment that has shown initial promise for its ability to keep bacteria from getting into the skin in the first place.

When a bacterium first enters a wound, like a scratch, sore, or burn, it secures its position by hijacking various sticky patches on human cells. Once this happens, the bacteria can hang on and stay in place even if the skin is washed, allowing it to grow and spread with compunction.

Can Bacterial Skin Infections be Washed Away?

The researchers found that a type of protein called a tetraspanin, if applied to a wound, made the patches significantly less sticky. Unable to secure them, would-be bacterial skin infections could be harmlessly washed away.

The use of tetraspanins has so far only been tested in vitro within a laboratory setting, but so far the results seem promising. In addition to being effective against common hospital pathogens like the bacteria strain responsible for MRSA, the treatment was found to be safe when tested against an artificial skin sample. Since the treatment doesn’t attack the bacteria directly but makes it easier for them to get washed away, resistance isn’t a concern either.

Currently, the researchers are trying to develop a cream or gel using tetraspanin that could be used to administer the treatment to people rather than Petri dishes. If successful, the result could be applied to the skin directly or incorporated into medical wound dressings. Making sure the to-be-developed cream works as well on humans as tetraspanins does on cell cultures is of obvious importance as well, and the researchers predict they will be able to begin clinical trials on thwarting bacterial skin infections within the next three years.

Ventress, J., “Peptides from Tetraspanin CD9 Are Potent Inhibitors of Staphylococcus Aureus Adheres to Keratinocytes,” PLOS One, 2016;