A Griffith University researcher says we urgently need to safeguard current antibiotics and discover new ones to avoid what has been described recently by England’s Chief Medical Officer, Prof Dame Sally Davies as a “post-antibiotic apocalypse.”

Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery (GRIDD) scientist Dr Róisín McMahon has just been awarded a $150,000 Ramaciotti Health Investment Grant to help address this global issue.

The grant will allow the early career scientist to work on her project ‘Overcoming the resistance: new antimicrobials that disarm, rather than destroy bacteria’ with the aim of a clinical application within five years.

“If antibiotics lose their effectiveness, we will face a future where simple infections kill, and where routine medical procedures like hip replacements and Caesarean sections will be riskier to perform,” she said.

“This funding supports research to identify new antimicrobial compounds effective against disease-causing bacteria.”

“My research seeks to disarm rather than kill bacteria. I hope to do this by blocking the activity of a protein — a biological machine — that bacteria use to assemble the molecular weapons that cause disease. By disrupting this “weapons assembly line” we can disable the ability of the bacteria to cause disease.”

Dr McMahon will use Nature Bank at GRIDD to search for new antimicrobial compounds. Nature Bank is a unique collection of natural products sourced from Australian plants, fungi and marine invertebrates.

“Antibiotic resistance is a complicated global problem involving human, animal and environmental health. We must work together in a co-ordinated way to combat it. This means reducing inappropriate antibiotic use, reducing infections via sanitation and vaccination, and investing in discovery of new antibiotics, including antibiotics that work in different ways. This research is one part of a larger effort to combat antibiotic resistance.”

This year Dr McMahon was also acknowledged as one of 30 inaugural Superstars of STEM by Science and Technology Australia.