Tree resin could cure infections caused by MRSA bacteria

Currently, MRSA is one of the fastest evolving bacteria, causing a wide range of infections from skin disease to serious endocarditis. Researchers at the University of Helsinki created a new biopolymer which kills MRSA nearly 100% upon contact, by combining nanocellulose with compounds derived from tree resin, a side stream from forest industry.

Methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) is any strain of S. aureus that has developed resistance towards the broad-spectrum β-lactam antibiotics such as cloxacillin, methicillin and flucloxacillin. Various sequelae can result from MRSA infection such as chronic wound infection, sepsis or ventilator-associated pneumonia. MRSA is the leading cause of chronic infections associated to the use of indwelling medical devices.

In her doctoral thesis, Ghada Hassan from the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Helsinki, researched the design and synthesis of biopolymers and compounds to target resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria.

By combining nanocellulose and compounds derived from resin Hassan discovered a new biopolymer which efficiently kills MRSA nearly 100% upon contact.

“The material is biocompatible and found to be devoid of significant toxicity towards human blood cells. Therefore, the bacteria cell dies but the human cell doesn’t which makes it both effective and safe. Therefore, this material can potentially be used for biomedical applications for example as integral parts of advanced biomaterials for human health including prosthetic implants or vascular stents or in wound dressings”, says Hassan.

In addition to killing Gram-positive MRSA, the material discovered by Hassan is active against Gram-negative bacteria E. coli. Thus, it has a broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity, which can be beneficial in creating broader antibiotic effect. According to Hassan, this topic is worth further development, as many active ingredients affect only one or another, not both.

Utilizing tree resin side stream

“Limiting MRSA growth with innovative biomaterials such as this is vital in re-creating the Finnish forestry might once again. In this case, it is especially great as it helps to turn the previously considered side stream, or even waste, tree resin, into something highly valuable,” Hassan says. With this in mind, a lot more value can be added to the resin of a tree both in health impact and monetary value.

Stat­ist­ical data re­lated to MRSA from Fin­land:

Doctoral defence:

Ghada Hassan, Master of Science (Pharmacy) will defend the doctoral dissertation entitled "Synthesis of Antimicrobial Surfaces and Compounds to Target Resistant Staphylococcus aureus" in the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Helsinki, on 20 February 2021 at 10:00. The public examination will take place at the following address: University of Helsinki, in room PIII, Porthania, Yliopistonkatu 3, 00100 Helsinki, Finland. (The event is streamed, please see the details on the event calendar). 

Professor Miguel Castanho, University of Lisbon, will serve as the opponent, and Professor Jari Yli-Kauhaluoma as the custos.

The dissertation is also available in electronic form in Helda.


Ghada Hassan,

Antibiotic resistance and MRSA

Antibiotic resistance is a current threat to modern medicine. Antimicrobial resistance emerges when antibiotics lose their effect in killing bacteria or preventing it from growing. Not only is it challenging to address but it also adds considerable costs to the healthcare systems. At the current rate of rising of drug resistance, approximately 10 million people will die annually by 2050 (WHO 2017). That will translate into a global economic loss of about USD 100 trillion.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has listed the six most threatening pathogens for which new antibiotics and approaches are urgently needed. One of the fastest evolving and most notorious Gram-positive bacteria in the list is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). In addition to developing resistance to a vast number of antibiotics, this bacterium can attach to surfaces and form biofilms. This lifestyle allows bacteria to protect themselves from the immune system and impairs treatment.

Statistical data related to MRSA from Finland

Figure 1. Source: Finnish National Infectious Diseases Register, The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare 2020

According to The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, in 2019, 1391 MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) cases were reported. MRSA case rates were the highest in Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District (506), Pirkanmaa (221) and Southwest Finland (158). Just over fifth of the cases were in the 20-34 age group (2019: 22%, 2018: 23%).