Anne-Marie Krachler, Ph.D., is exploring an innovative way to reduce the risk of burn wound infections.
Anne-Marie Krachler, Ph.D., is exploring an innovative way to reduce the risk of burn wound infections.

When skin is burnt, the underlying tissue is particularly vulnerable to infection-causing germs. A research team led by a microbiologist at McGovern Medical School has developed a way to turn the tables on these would-be invaders.

The idea is to reduce the ability of virulent bacteria to bind to a burn wound by coating the wound with an anti-adhesive compound. The compound produced a tenfold decrease in bacteria levels in treated wounds in a preclinical study.

The proof-of-concept study appears in the journal Scientific Reports.

“We’re taking a different approach to infection reduction,” said Anne-Marie Krachler, Ph.D., a study senior author and an associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at McGovern Medical School. “Instead of killing the bacteria, we’re keeping them from sticking to a wound.”

More than 1 million burn injuries occur in the United States every year and these injuries lead to about 100,000 hospitalizations. Burn wound infections are hard to treat and can be fatal because burn injuries compromise a patient’s immune system.

Krachler’s compound mimics a protein on the surface of bacterial cells that allows them to latch onto a wound. By doing this, the compound coats a wound and stops bacteria from sticking to the tissue. If bacteria cannot bind to a wound, they harmlessly pass through a person’s system.

Scientists tested their compound on a drug-resistant strain of Pseudomonas aeruginosa in a preclinical model. In addition to reducing bacterial levels, the compound contained the spread of infection and did not appear to impact the natural healing of the wound.

“Taken together, our data demonstrate for the first time the efficacy of a virulence-targeting antimicrobial compound with broad-spectrum specificity in an in vivo model,” the authors wrote in the paper.

The researchers describe the compound as an adhesion inhibitor.

“This anti-infective strategy has the potential to treat multidrug-resistant infections and limit the emergence of drug-resistant pathogens,” the authors wrote.

The next steps in the research involve analyzing the inhibition of other bacterial species and assessing the compound’s efficacy in decreasing infections associated with surgery.

“My vision is that one day our research will be available to benefit patients and to treat burn infections for which conventional antibiotics are no longer a viable treatment strategy,” Krachler said.

“Dr. Krachler, a recipient of a UT System Rising Star Award, is having outstanding success in her research efforts aimed at new methods to combat infectious disease. Her creative strategy – blocking bacterial attachment to host tissues – may supersede or enhance the results of using traditional antibiotic approaches,” said Theresa “Terri” Koehler, Ph.D., chair of microbiology and molecular genetics and the Herbert L. and Margaret W. DuPont Distinguished Professor in Biomedical Science at McGovern Medical School.

Krachler’s co-authors include Ryan Huebinger, Ph.D., Deborah L. Carlson, Ph.D., Juquan Song, M.D., Kim Orth, Ph.D., Marcela de Souza Santos, Ph.D. and Steven Wolf, M.D., of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas; and Daniel Stones, Ph.D., Emma Keen and Diana Pereira Vaz of the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom.

The joint study from UT Southwestern Medical Center, McGovern Medical School and the University of Birmingham is titled “Targeting bacterial adherence inhibits multidrug resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

It was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council grants (BB/L007916/1, BB/M018024/1, and BB/M021386/1), Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Golden Charity Guild Charles R. Baxter Chair in Burn Surgery and National Institutes of Health grants (R01 GM115188 and 5T32DK007745-17).