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Cockroaches are usually about the last thing people associate with health and healing. Some scientists believe, however, that chemicals in cockroach brains may hold the key to treating some of the new "superbugs"

Chemicals in cockroach brains may hold the key to treating some of the new superbugs

"Superbugs" are bacterial infections such as MRSA and certain strains of E. coli that conventional antibiotics can't keep under control.

Dr. Simon Lee, a researcher at the University of Nottingham in England, says that cockroach brain tissue contains potent antibiotic materials,including a least nine different chemicals that are toxic to strains of bacteria that are increasingly untreatable by antibiotics. Dr. Lee told the British newspaper the Science Daily that he and fellow researchers hoped that these antibacterial molecules might be developed into treatments for bacterial infections that are increasingly only treatable with drugs that cause severe kidney damage. At least in the test tube under laboratory-controlled conditions, some of the chemicals found in the brains of cockroaches and locusts kill over 90 per cent of MRSA and E. coli bacteria.

Why would cockroaches need to generate their own antibiotics? It's really quite logical, Lee says. Cockroaches often live in the most unhygienic and unsanitary environments on the planet. If they did not have potent defenses against bacterial infection, they would not survive the dank, dirty, and rotting environments in which they often live.

As we all know, however, cockroaches can also thrive in spotlessly clean homes and hospital rooms, carrying infection with them when they forage in food storage areas and rubbish bins. Even worse, they secrete chemicals that can provoke allergies and asthma, tying up the immune system so that it cannot respond to disease.

Read More: The Most Powerful Natural Antibiotics

Fill a gap in medical research to develop new antibiotics

The research program at the University of Nottingham's School of Veterinary Medicine aims to fill a gap in medical research caused by the lack of financial incentives for the big pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics, the Science Daily reports. Even as the need for new antibiotics grows greater, many of the drug companies are actually doing less to find needed new treatments.

The fact that cockroaches make their own antibiotics does not mean that they don't spread infections, of course. It is precisely because cockroaches can withstand infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria that they spread infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, especially in hospital settings. Brazilian researchers reporting in the Brazilian Journal of Infectious Disease found that 97 per cent of cockroaches spread infectious fungi, 75 per cent carry human intestinal infections, and 50 per cent carry staph infections.

The intestinal infections carried by cockroaches are especially problematic for hospital patients. Of cockroach-borne infectious agents, 96 per cent don't respond to treatment with the antibiotic gentamicin. Over 75 per cent of the diarrhea-causing bacteria carried by bacteria can't be killed with the antibiotic caphalothin, and over 66 per cent can't be killed by ampicillin. This means that the most commonly prescribed antibiotics simply don't help control infections brought into hospital rooms by cockroaches.

Right now, it's just the cockroaches that benefit from the antibiotic power of the chemicals in their brains. Dr. Lee and his supervisor Dr. Naveed Khan, however, hope that antibiotics imitating the cockroach chemicals will be approved for general use over the next 10 years.