A tuberculosis test

Breakthrough Helps Fight Against Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

October 17, 2008 07:00 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Researchers have discovered new anti-bacterial compounds that could help in the fight against drug-resistant pathogens such as tuberculosis strains.

New Compounds May Combat Drug-Resistant Pathogens

Scientists hope that naturally occurring anti-bacterial compounds can help produce new antibiotics to combat drug-resistant strains of illnesses. The researchers published their findings in the journal Cell on Thursday. 

The breakthrough is very important at a time when traditional antibiotics are becoming less effective against certain pathogens. Currently, “bacteria-borne diseases” are responsible for about one-quarter of all deaths in the world, and they are becoming increasingly resistant to medication, according to Agence France-Presse.

In order for bacteria to spread, it must obtain the genetic information from DNA and create proteins. But, according to the researchers, the compounds could thwart a bacterial enzyme called RNA polymerase from accessing that genetic information, which would cause the bacteria to die. The antibiotic compounds are called myxopyronin, corallopyronin and ripostatin.

Richard Ebright, head researcher at Rutgers University’s Howard Hughes Institute, which ran the study, compared the RNA polymerase to the shape of a crab claw. “Just as with a real crab claw, one pincer stays fixed and one pincer moves—opening and closing to keep DNA in place.” The three antibiotics prevent the bacterial enzyme from functioning properly, according to Reuters.

Researchers also hope the compounds could shorten the time it takes to medicate against tuberculosis. “The Holy Grail in TB therapy is to reduce the course of therapy from six months to two weeks—to make treatment of TB like treatment of other bacterial infections,” said Ebright, AFP reports. As TB is a major problem in developing countries, reducing the course of treatment could be a monumental advancement, and “the disease could be eradicated,” he said.

However, the substances are not yet ready as antibiotics. Dr. Herbert Irschik, a biologist at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, where the compounds were discovered, explains that more work must be done: “Our natural agents are so-called chemical leads, which the chemists will modify in detail in order to increase their antibiotic action and minimize side-effects. This development will include extensive testing, which may take several years, before the new medicine will reach the hands of doctors finally.”

Related Topic: E. Coli superbug creates concern in Britain

Hospitals in Britain have reported that gram-negative bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to the antibiotics currently available. Cases of drug-resistant Escherichia coli, the “big beast” of gram-negative bacteria, tripled between 2000 and 2006, and there is a lack of new antibiotics reaching the market.

“Hospitals are having to use what were second-line antibiotics first,” said Dr. David Livermore, laboratory director at the Health Protection Agency Centre for Infections. “We are not actually running out of antibiotics, however we are now having to use our last-defence antibiotics first in some hospital infections.”

The problem is made worse by overuse of antibiotics, which increases the resistance of superbugs. The HPA warned patients and doctors against using antibiotics for common colds and coughs, while Sir Liam Donaldson, England’s Chief Medical Officer, told doctors to stop prescribing antibiotics for viruses.

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