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Cockroach Brains vs. MRSA

Brains of Cockroaches and Locusts Contain Substances Lethal to Bacteria
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Sept. 9, 2010 -- Cockroaches and locusts may be annoying bugs, but their tiny brains contain antibacterial molecules that apparently are toxic to drug-resistant infections such as MRSA as well as E. coli germs, new research indicates.

Simon Lee, a post-graduate researcher at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, says he has identified up to nine different molecules in tissues of the brains of cockroaches and locusts.

And these substances, he contends, could be used as novel treatments for drug-resistant bacterial infections. He says the tissues of the brain and nervous systems of the insects killed more than 90% of bugs that cause methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, as well as E. coli germs.

Bug Brain Experiments

He says he conducted experiments using the insects’ brains after realizing the creepy crawlers must have extraordinary germ-fighting qualities.

“Insects often live in unsanitary and unhygienic environments where they encounter many different types of bacteria,” Lee says in a news release. “It is therefore logical that they have developed ways of protecting themselves against micro-organisms.”

He presented his findings in Nottingham at the annual meeting of the Society for General Microbiology.

Lee says new antibiotics developed from brains of cockroaches and locusts have the potential to become “alternatives for currently available drugs that may be effective but have serious and unwanted side effects.”

New Antibiotics Badly Needed

“New antimicrobial agents are urgently needed to meet the challenges posted by the re-emergence of infectious diseases,” Lee says in an abstract presented at the meeting. “The search for new antibacterial compounds from novel natural sources is a vital research area.”

Cockroaches and locusts were dissected to obtain muscle, fat, ganglia, and hemolymph, a fluid equivalent to blood in most invertebrates.

Substances called lysates of locust and cockroach brains proved more than 90% effective against bacteria tested, he says. What’s more, the substances had no toxic effects on human brain cells, and more research is under way to “purify and further characterize the antibacterial properties” of the biological agents from the insects’ brains.

New Drugs From Bugs on Horizon

Naveed Khan, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Nottingham who is supervising Lee’s research, says in the same news release that superbugs like MRSA “have developed resistance against the chemotherapeutic artillery that we throw at them.”

The superbugs, he says, “have shown the ability to cause untreatable infections and have become a major threat in our fight against bacterial diseases.” Therefore, he says, “there is a continuous need to find additional sources of novel antimicrobials to confront this menace.”

The University of Nottingham news release says research is ongoing to test the potency of the bug-brain molecules against a number of “emerging superbugs, such as Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas and Burkholderia.”

This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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