New fish slime antibiotic brings hope in a world of resistance

fish slime antibioticCC: David Clode at Unsplash

As anyone who has visited their physician for a potential infection will already know, antibiotic resistance is a problem. This means that researchers need to delve into unlikely places to find new medications. Recently, scientists at Oregon State University have revealed a potential fish slime antibiotic. While this may sound strange, the protective mucus that coats young fish could shield humans fending off infections too.

What do we know about the new fish slime antibiotic so far?

The new fish slime antibiotic comes from the protective mucus that coats young fish in their new environment. It protects fish against bacteria, fungi, and viruses by trapping the pathogens before they have the potential to reproduce and cause harm. Additionally, it features peptides and polysaccharides that have antibacterial properties.

Those researching the fish slime antibiotic have been swabbing the skin of young fish just off the Southern California coast. After isolating certain strains of bacteria and fungi, they’ve found that the mucus has strong activity against some of the worst ones. This includes pseudomonas, MRSA, and candida albicans.

In addition to using the fish slime antibiotic in human medicine, it could play a role in fish farming. Overall, the ability to tackle highly-resistant strains of bacteria could tackle many of the problems we see with antibiotic resistance today.

Why is antibiotic resistance so problematic?

Most of the antibiotics used today were introduced to the world between the 1940s and 1960s. They allowed medical professionals to make significant progress in treating conditions that could otherwise become fatal. For example, infections arising from injuries sustained on battlefields and post-birth sepsis.

Unfortunately, antibiotics have been overused long before we became aware that resistance could become problematic. Unlike humans, bacteria evolve at an alarming rate. This means they’re able to adapt to antibiotics rapidly, resulting in them producing impenetrable defences against some of our best ones. This has resulted in difficult-to-treat infections such as MRSA, which can prove fatal. We’re now also seeing a rise in antibiotic-resistant STDs, such as gonorrhea that resists fluoroquinolones.

Introducing fish slime antibiotics to medicine could overcome some of these issues. However, although the research so far is promising, there’s more work to be done. Pharmaceutical trials are lengthy and move through several strict phases before drugs receive FDA approval. As such, if the Oregon State University team were to synthesize the fish slime antibiotics, it could be a decade or more before they reach the public.

Are there any success stories similar to this one?

Researchers in the UK have successfully synthesized the secretions maggots produce when debriding wounds that are resistant to antibiotics. The use of maggots to treat infectious wounds stems back to the Ancient Egyptian period. Unlike fish slime antibiotics, they have an established history in clearing away dangerously infected tissue and removing the infection.

The trials in the UK focused on using lab-grown maggots packed into dressings to tackle difficult wounds. Not surprisingly, few patients are willing to put themselves forward for such approaches when it becomes clear what’s involved. Because of this, the research team leading the maggot antibiotic movement synthesised the maggots’ secretions, which have powerful antimicrobial properties.

With any luck, Oregon State University’s team will make similar achievements with the fish slime antibiotics. For now, it’s a good idea to not overuse the ones that are available.

About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.