The findings in the journal PLoS ONE are based on lab experiments using petri dishes and animals to test the protein complex called Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor Cells, or HAMLET.
Researchers at the University of Buffalo found that the compound was able to increase the sensitivity of tough bacteria to antibiotics, reversing resistance and allowing a lower antibiotic dose when treating sick mice.
Penicillin-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA, regained sensitivity to the antibiotics they were previously able to beat, the researchers said in a statement.
"HAMLET has the potential to minimize the concentrations of antibiotics we need to use to fight infections, and enable us to use well-established antibiotics against resistant strains again," said Anders Hakansson, lead researcher and a UB assistant professor of microbiology and immunology.
The protein complex was discovered while Hakansson was working in Catharina Svanborg's laboratory in Lund, Sweden.
It has been shown in previous studies to selectively kill both tumor cells and bacteria.
Scientists hope it can one day be used in humans, in combination with already existing antibiotics, to boost the fight against superbugs and drug resistant bacteria.