Antibiotic resistance is becoming a real menace, with the United Nations calling it a “fundamental threat” that could kill as many as 300 million people by the year 2050. An amazing new molecule promises to reverse antibiotic resistance in several bacterial strains all at once. Developed by a team of scientists from Oregon State University, the breakthrough substance is a major step forward in our battle against this terrible problem.
Every year, over 2 million people in the United States suffer from bacterial infections that are the result of antibiotic resistance. According to researchers, there are three ways microorganisms like E. coli, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Streptococcus pneumoniae and others become resistant to drugs: gene mutation, inherent resistance or by acquiring resistance from other species. Speaking about the issue, the team’s lead scientist Bruce Geller said:
We’ve lost the ability to use many of our mainstream antibiotics. Everything’s resistant to them now. That’s left us to try to develop new drugs to stay one step ahead of the bacteria, but the more we look the more we don’t find anything new. So that’s left us with making modifications to existing antibiotics, but as soon as you make a chemical change, the bugs mutate and now they’re resistant to the new, chemically modified antibiotic.
As the team points out, one of the mechanisms that these superbugs employ to spread antibiotic resistance is through a special enzyme called New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1). First detected in 2008, it is known to make strains of bacteria resistant to what is commonly believed to be our “last resort” drugs: a family of penicillins referred to as carbapenems. Geller explained:
The significance of NDM-1 is that it is destroys carbapenems, so doctors have had to pull out an antibiotic, colistin, that hadn’t been used in decades because it’s toxic to the kidneys. That is literally the last antibiotic that can be used on an NDM-1-expressing organism, and we now have bacteria that are completely resistant to all known antibiotics.
As part of the current research, the team has created a special molecule that combats antibiotic resistance in multiple bacterial strains. This molecule, which is a type of peptide-conjugated phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomer (or PPMO), works by disabling the enzyme entirely. While previous studies have attempted to use naturally-occurring PPMO molecules against infection-spreading pathogens, the results have been far from spectacular. The new project takes a different approach to fighting antibiotic resistance. Geller was reported saying:
We’re targeting a resistance mechanism that’s shared by a whole bunch of pathogens. It’s the same gene in different types of bacteria, so you only have to have one PPMO that’s effective for all of them, which is different than other PPMOs that are genus specific.
To test its efficacy, the scientists placed the molecule in a Petri dish containing bacteria from three different genera. As revealed by the team, all of these microbes produce NDM-1, and are therefore resistant to carbapenems. The antibiotic used in the experiment was meropenem, which miraculously regained its bacteria-annihilating abilities, thanks to the PPMO molecule.
For further testing, the researchers injected the newly-developed substance into mice infected with drug-resistant E. coli. As expected, the molecule significantly improved meropenem’s performance, making proper treatment possible. Talking about the research, which was recently published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, Gellar went on to say:
A PPMO can restore susceptibility to antibiotics that have already been approved, so we can get a PPMO approved and then go back and use these antibiotics that had become useless.
Given the amazing results, the team believes that the molecule could be ready for clinical trials within the coming three years.
Source: Oregon State University