Published in Nature Biotechnology, the study at the University of Liverpool showed that specially engineered lipid (fat) bodies, called liposomes, can be used to prevent bacterial toxins from killing human cells.
This could prevent unnecessary deaths from diseases such as pneumonia and sepsis. The treatment is a valuable alternative to current medications, particularly for infections that have become resistant to antibiotics.
The bacterial toxins, produced by major human pathogens such as Streptococcus pneumonia, Streptococcus pyogenes and Methicillin Resistant Staphlycoccus aureus (MRSA) were neutralised as they bound to the liposomes instead of human cells.
Liposomes are already licensed for medical use as carriers for drug delivery and are nontoxic to humans. The research team has now shown that they can also be used therapeutically, either alone or in conjunction with antibiotics to combat bacterial infections and to minimize toxin-induced tissue damage and inflammation.
Professor Aras Kadioglu, from the University's Institute of Infection and Global Health, explains: "The global burden of bacterial disease is very high and set against a backdrop of increasing antimicrobial resistance. There is an urgent need for alternatives to antibiotics that are effective and less likely to lead to drug resistance.
"Bacterial toxins are the key mediators of morbidity and mortality for many pathogens and we have developed a novel treatment to specifically neutralize them".
"Our data provides a strong case for pursuing liposome-based, toxin-sequestrating therapy for use as a clinical treatment for life-threatening bacterial infections."
Dr Daniel Neill, also from the University, added: "This treatment can be used for antibiotic resistant bacteria as well as for the treatment of antibiotic-sensitive bacteria, to prevent the release of toxins that leads to deterioration of the clinical condition of the patient."
The research, a collaboration between scientists from institutions in the UK, US, Germany and Switzerland, was published in Nature Biotechnology and supported by the Medical Research Council's (MRC's) Confidence in Concept Award.