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Dr Fouch's sweet approach to battling bad bacteria

  • 17 December 2020
  • 2 min read

Patients undergoing hospital treatment can face a challenge to recovery due to bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

But The University of Portsmouth's Dr Sarah Fouch is exploring a 'sweeter' way around the problem.

Dr Fouch has spent part of 2020 working to improve testing and diagnostics for COVID-19 at Basingstoke hospital, but in the latest episode of Life Solved, she explains how research she's leading into fighting bacteria in catheters could also have life-saving results.

How antibiotic resistance can be a matter of life or death

After working in an NHS hospital for 12 years, Dr Fouch was well-versed in how multi-resistant organisms could mean the difference between life and death for some patients. But until a solution can be found, there will continue to be tragic cases.

Bacteria are very promiscuous. So if they have an element of DNA that will help them to resist an antibiotic, then actually they're quite good at sharing those. It’s very problematic, particularly with patients that have urinary catheters.

Dr Sarah Fouch, Senior Lecturer in Microbiology

With multi-resistant infections on the rise, there's a need for new ways of tackling them in hospitals. For example, when urinary catheters are fitted, multiple bacteria can grow on the plastic and form what's known as a 'biofilm'. This matrix of different components presents a challenge for the patient's immune system.

Searching for smart new ways of breaking down this biofilm, Dr Fouch began to experiment with one potential candidate: a health food you might have sitting in your kitchen cabinet.

The Unique Manuka Factor

As an alternative treatment, Manuka honey's purported to have wide-ranging benefits, from treating inflammation to easing symptoms of the common cold. Its high content of methylglyoxal is thought to be one of the magic chemicals responsible for a range of health benefits.

It's got wound healing properties, it's got anti-cancer properties. It's also got antimicrobial properties.

Dr Sarah Fouch, Senior Lecturer in Microbiology

Dr Fouch says the next step is to begin exploring how effective the Manuka honey approach can be in real clinical environments. Turning to the common problem of catheter bacteria build-up, the next challenge is in how to adapt the gloopy substance into a useful 'flush' to rinse catheters with twice daily.

If this is successful, it means that bacteria could be stopped in their tracks before they even enter the patient.

Findings from the next phase of research could have far-reaching impacts on how hospitals use catheters, how we prescribe antibiotics and even have applications for other types of infection.

Listen to the Life Solved podcast

The Life Solved podcast explores the world-changing ideas and research coming out of the University of Portsmouth.

Dr Fouch talks about this innovative work in more detail in the latest episode of the Life Solved podcast.

Life Solved is also available to stream on any podcast app or online. Simply search for 'Life Solved' to listen.

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