Irish researchers discover new way to kill hospital superbug


IRISH-BASED researchers have come up with a new way to kill off bacteria, including the hospital superbug MRSA.

The new method wipes out 100 per cent of all bacteria in as little as 30 minutes.

The discovery comes from an eight-person team based at Queen’s University in Belfast. No bacteria can withstand the treatment, which is based on the use of substances known as ionic liquids.

“The ionic liquid itself is the active component,” said Dr Martyn Earle, assistant director of the Queen’s University ionic liquid laboratories, who led the group jointly with Dr Brendan Gilmore of Queen’s school of pharmacy.

The two published a paper explaining their work in the current online edition of the journal Green Chemistry.

The liquid can be sprayed on to a surface where it will kill any existing bacteria, including MRSA and other so-called superbugs. It continues to destroy any bacteria that arrive subsequently provided the ionic liquid has not been wiped off, Dr Earle said.

Ionic liquids are also up to 250 times better at killing difficult to treat “biofilms”, the build-up of bacterial colonies that can protect themselves from most antibiotics.

“The speed with which it acts is pretty fast,” Dr Earle said. “Ionic liquids have very good dissolving power.”

The liquid has low toxicity but has not yet been tested for use in human treatments.

The Queen’s University group plans to introduce commercial products based on the technology, and is also studying possible uses with humans, eg as hand washes.

Ionic liquids are chemically similar to common table salt, but are liquid at room temperature. They are also unusual because rather than forming stable molecules they break up to form fragments known as ions.

Bacteria exposed to them take up the ions into their cell walls, disrupting normal activity and quickly killing off the bacteria.