An anti-adhesive treatment to fight staphylococcus aureus


A team led by Professor Yves Dufrêne of UCL’s Institute of Life Sciences, in collaboration with Trinity College Dublin, recently discovered a molecule that can prevent a huge problem for hospitals and their patients: staph infections acquired during hospital stays. The research that led to the discovery was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Certain pathogenic bacteria, such as staphylococcus aureus (also known as ‘golden staph’), cling to indwelling medical devices – catheters, heart valves, grafts, lenses, artificial joints, shunts – and multiply to form biofilms. These multicellular communities cause nosocomial (i.e. hospital-acquired) infections that are particularly difficult to treat owing to their resistance to antibiotics. An alternative to antibiotics is anti-adhesion treatment. Biofilms are able to form owing to so-called ‘adhesion proteins’ on the surface of pathogens that act like glue. Anti-adhesion treatment ‘masks’ these surface proteins with an intervening molecule, thus preventing pathogens from sticking together. (See ‘Bacterial biofilms under the microscope’.)

                                                                        staphylocoque doré microscope à force atomique

Inactivating adhesion proteins

While this idea is not new – cranberry juice has long been a traditional ‘anti-biofilm’ remedy for urinary infections – today the researcher’s challenge is to consistently develop new effective molecules for optimising the prevention of biofilms and treatment of infections.

The molecule discovered by Professor Yves Dufrêne’s team is a synthetic peptide derived from the neuronal molecule β-neurexin. It inactivates a major adhesion protein on the surface of staphylococcus aureus, including its antibiotic-resistant strains.

Made possible by ERC funding

The discovery owes a debt to live-cell nanoscopy – highlighted in 2014 by a Nobel Prize in Chemistry – and the atomic force microscope, both of which make possible the testing and selection of the most effective anti-adhesive molecules.

Funded by an ‘Advanced Grant’ from the European Research Council, the research is an important step in the development of new treatments for preventing biofilm formation and to complement the antibiotic arsenal against bacterial infection.


A glance at Yves Dufrêne's bio

Yves Dufrêne

1991                       Graduated from Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, UCL
1996                       Doctoral thesis, UCL
1996-97                  Post-doctorate at Naval Research Laboratory (US)
Since 2000             FNRS Researcher (Senior Research Associate), Institute of Life Sciences, and Professor in the Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, UCL
2009                       Winner, Prix Pacault, Société française de Chimie (‘French Society of Chemistry’)
2012                       Winner, Quadrennial Life Sciences Award, European Microscopy Society
2013                       Winner, Prix Léo Errera, Royal Academy of Belgium
2015                       Associate Editor, Nanoscale
2016                       Winner, European Research Council Advanced Grant for research project NanoStaph



Published on April 11, 2017