Sugar Inhibits the Production of Toxins in Gas Gangrene

Universidad Nacional de Rosario - Facultad de Ciencias Bioquímicas y Farmacéuticas

April 02, 2012 | 4 ′ 41 ′′


Sugar Inhibits the Production of Toxins in Gas Gangrene


A research proved sugar’s capability to attack the bacterium which causes gangrenes. It was genetically characterized why and how sugar prevents the tissues’ contamination and accelerates the healing, as it avoids the development of microbes which enter through the skin and produce toxins which degrade tissues. The researchers project the development of an antibiotic which prevents this kind of infections.

Dr. Roberto Grau’s laboratory, who is the director of the project based in the School of Biochemical Sciences and Pharmacy, is located in the huge teaching hospital constituted by Hospital Centenario. There, they carry out a work line which investigates the bacterium Clostridium perfringens.

This bacterium causes the disease known as gas gangrene. It is a necrotizing tissue infection. Clostridium perfringens produces gas in gangrenous tissues and in the absence of oxygen its expansive tendency develops very quickly, so it frequently results lethal.

According to Grau, the bacterium Clostridium perfringens is also one of the main causes for intoxication by contaminated food. This bacterium is sensitive to oxygen. In contact with air, it dies. Notwithstanding, it is one of the most widespread human pathogenic agent. This is due to its capacity to generate spores, which are inert and insensitive resistant structures to any kind of aggression, such as antibiotic treatment. When they reach an appropriate place these spores develop gangrene.

“Around five or six years ago, we started to study this bacterium, particularly how its spores production process is regulated. As the gangrene advances, the bacterium starts producing toxins which degrade the tissues. A gangrene treated late can advance up to ten centimeters per hour. That is why, up to now, the solution to gangrene is amputation”, says Grau.

In 2006, the team he leads published an article in collaboration with a group of researchers from the United States in which they described the way to regulate Clostridium’s sporulating capacity. “At that moment I called it ‘the salty signal’, because we described that sugar could regulate negatively the capacity of this bacterium to glide (displacing)”, indicates the researcher to InfoUniversidades.

So, Grau’s team started to think about a long term applied science project: “If we know the spore’s formation and now we can inhibit gliding, we can think in an antibiotic to prevent sporulation and the advance of the bacterium”.

At that time, when the article was published, some scientists approached Dr. Grau with a key worry: what was the relation between the old medical practice of applying sugar to the wounds and the research developed in microbiology laboratories in Rosario.

“Part of why we apply this medical practice is due to the sugar’s capacity to absorb water. It is an osmotic process which takes away from the bacterium the enough free water to grow. But we knew it was not everything. So, when we advance with our investigations, we decided to see what was the relation between sugar and toxins’ production. What we discovered is that sugar regulates negatively the production of the essential toxins which develop gangrene. In this way, the triad is completed: we know how to prevent bacteria to sporulate. If the alternative is to escape we know how to prevent the displacement. If it produces toxin, we also know how to inhibit that process, so, the bacterium would be completely defenseless”, says the scientist.

Next steps

“The next step will be to develop, departing from this knowledge, a new antibiotic which prevents this kind of infections -projects the researcher-. Through the Conicet we will try to patent the discovery so that tomorrow, if there is an antibiotic development, the Conicet, as well as the UNR can participate. Of course, we would like to develop the antibiotic in the country”.

The director of the research is proud of the fact that the last stage of the studies is a 100% locally produced: “We work together with three students, post graduate scholarship holders. In this microbiology laboratory we have all the necessary equipment to develop this kind of research”.

Silvana Di Stéfano
sdistefa@unr.edu.ar
Anahí Lovato
Secretaría de Comunicación y Medios - Dirección de Prensa


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