Cockroaches 'may help beat superbugs'

Cockroaches have long been regarded as an unwanted pest but in fact they could hold the secret to treating the most resilient of superbugs, scientists said today.

Tests have found tissue from the brains and nervous systems of the insects can kill off more than 90% of MRSA and E-coli infections without harming human cells.

Until now, cockroaches have been seen as a health hazard, to be found in dank and dingy hotels.

But Simon Lee, a postgraduate researcher at the University of Nottingham, says they hold powerful antibiotic properties after discovering nine different molecules in their tissues which are toxic to bacteria.

He said: "We hope that these molecules could eventually be developed into treatments for E-coli and MRSA infections that are increasingly resistant to current drugs.

"These new antibiotics could potentially provide alternatives to currently available drugs that may be effective but have serious and unwanted side effects."

He added: "Insects often live in unsanitary and unhygienic environments where they encounter many different types of bacteria. It is therefore logical that they have developed ways of protecting themselves against micro-organisms."

Mr Lee's research has focused on the study of specific properties of the antibacterial molecules which are now being tested on numerous superbugs.

According to the Society for General Microbiology, the pharmaceutical industry is generating fewer and fewer new antibiotics due to lack of financial incentives, resulting in a high demand for alternative sources of new drugs.

Tomorrow, Mr Lee is presenting his findings to fellow scientists at the society's autumn meeting at the University of Nottingham.

Dr Naveed Khan is supervising Mr Lee's work. He said: "Superbugs such as MRSA have developed resistance against the standard therapies and treatments that we throw at them.

"They have shown the ability to cause untreatable infections, and have become a major threat in our fight against bacterial diseases. Thus, there is a continuous need to find additional sources of novel antimicrobials to confront this menace."