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Researchers have discovered a new drug compound which kills antibiotic resistant gram-negative bacteria that can cause infections including pneumonia, urinary tract infections and bloodstream infections.

The research, published in the journal ACS Nano, describes the new compound which kills gram-negative E. coli, including a multidrug resistant pathogen said to be responsible for millions of antibiotic resistant infections worldwide annually.

"As the compound is luminescent it glows when exposed to light. This means the uptake and effect on bacteria can be followed by the advanced microscope techniques available at RAL (Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Britain)," said Jim Thomas, Professor at the University of Sheffield in Britain.

"This breakthrough could lead to vital new treatments to life-threatening superbugs and the growing risk posed by antimicrobial resistance," Thomas added. 

The studies at Sheffield and RAL have shown the compound seems to have several modes of action, making it more difficult for resistance to emerge in the bacteria. 

In a recent report on antimicrobial resistant pathogens, the World Health Organisation put several gram-negative bacteria at the top of its list, stating that new treatments for these bacteria were "Priority 1 Critical" because they cause infections with high death rates, are rapidly becoming resistant to all present treatments and are often picked up in hospitals.

The next step of the research will be to test it against other multi-resistant bacteria.