Breakthrough in Treatment of Highly-Resistant Bacteria

Each year in the United States, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are responsible for approximately 2 million illnesses and nearly 25,000 deaths. And the number of drug-resistant bacteria is rising rapidly.

The growing health crisis due to drug-resistant bacteria is exacerbated because the population most likely to suffer serious health consequences from them are the most vulnerable: infants, small children, people with a weakened immune system, and the elderly. The elderly are the fastest growing age group in the United States, and therefore the issue of drug-resistant bacteria is especially important for them.

Scientists around the world are studying these bacteria in what is essentially a race against time: the widespread emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Recently, scientists at the University of Zürich in Switzerland, discovered that a naturally occurring antibiotic produced by the spined soldier bug was able to attack the external membranes of specific classes of bacteria. This naturally occurring antibiotic is called thanatin. The team’s new research results about thanatin were published in the journal Science Advances.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the five most common drug-resistant bacteria are:

  • Escherichia coli
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae
  • Salmonella
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae

The first three bacteria are Gram-negative bacteria, meaning that they have a double-layer outer membrane, making them extremely difficult to attack.

The research team discovered that thanatin was able to block the interaction between proteins that is required to protect the double-layered membrane of these bacteria. Once this defensive barrier was breached, antibiotics were able to reach the bacteria and destroy them.

The authors noted that, “The results highlight a new paradigm for antibiotic action, targeting a dynamic network of proteins-protein interactions required for assembly of the Lpt complex in E. coli. This is an unprecedented mechanism of action for an antibiotic and immediately suggests ways to develop new molecules as antibiotics targeting dangerous pathogens.”

The looming crisis of antibiotic resistant bacteria may slowly be coming under control, as researchers find new methods to combat them.

Within the next several years, we can expect that many diseases which currently have no effective treatment will be brought under control. From a scientific point of view, this is an exciting time. From a patient’s point of view, it is a time where optimism is warranted.

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