British scientists discover compound to fight superbugs

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SHEFFIELD, England (CBS) British scientists have discovered a new compound that finds and kills superbugs, the potentially fatal infections that antibiotics can't treat and contribute to the deaths of thousands of people around the world each year.

It may not look like much but an arms race is underway in this University of Sheffield lab, pitting man against germs.

"The way it's going is it's like a freight train coming toward us and we aren't doing anything," said Professor Jim Thomas.

Superbugs are bacteria like E. coli and MRSA that evolve to resist current antibiotics. Health officials predict they could kill more than 10 million people a year by 2050, putting patients at risk of deadly infections during everyday procedures.

"Imagine very common operations like hip replacements, knee replacements... things like child birth will become a major medical problem," Thomas said.

But scientists at England's University of Sheffield say there is hope. Ph.D student Kirsty Smitten accidentally discovered a potential superbug breakthrough while researching cancer fighting drugs.

"We didn't know it would work on bacteria and suddenly we got a hit and it was a bit of a surprise," Smitten said.

An experimental compound dinuclear Ru(II) complex is the latest weapon in their arsenal. These microscopic images show how it successfully attacks, infiltrates, and kills superbugs.

So far they've tested their discovery on insects. The work is costly and time consuming.. and human trials are still a few years away.

"If it makes it through clinical trials, there's no reason it couldn't save as many lives as penicillin has saved," Smitten said.

And if approved, it'll keep doctors one step ahead in the war against superbugs.