Researchers from Institute for Glycomics fight antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea

Associate Professor Kate Seib & Dr Evgeny Semchenko

A research project by Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics seeks to identify and develop new drugs and a vaccine to protect against antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea.

The bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae (Ng) causes the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhoea, which has significant impact on global health, infecting more than 100 million people each year.

“In 2018, ‘super gonorrhoea’, resistant to all routine antibiotics, was found in Australia,” said Associate Professor Kate Seib, who will conduct the research with Dr Evgeny Semchenko.

“The emergence of almost untreatable multi-drug resistant strains of Ng is increasing, prompting calls for the urgent development of new treatment options and a vaccine.

“Based on our novel discovery that Ng interacts with specific sugars (specifically mannose) on host cells, and compounds that mimic mannose can block Ng infection, our research aims to identify and develop new antibiotics to treat Ng infection.”

Bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae

Statistics indicate that cases of Ng in Australia have doubled in the past five years. There is a particularly high burden of disease in First Australians, where 2017 rates were 6.6 times higher in Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples compared to the non-Indigenous population, with even higher rates seen in remote and very remote areas.

“If left undiagnosed or untreated, gonorrhoea can lead to severe consequences, especially for women, including pelvic inflammatory disease, adverse pregnancy outcomes and neonatal complications, as well as infertility,’’ Associate Professor Seib said.

“Infection with Ng also increases the risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV.”

Professor Mark von Itzstein AO, Founder and Director of the Institute for Glycomics, said the study will have a major impact on the urgent public health threat associated with the emergence of untreatable, multi-drug resistant Ng strains both in Australia and worldwide.

The research project “Developing new drugs and a vaccine to protect against antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea” is being supported by the Thyne Reid Foundation.