Fighting Superbugs With New Therapy: Searching for Alternatives to Antibiotics

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US scientists found a new way to kill bacteria without using antibiotics. Many antibiotics can target a wide range of bacteria, leading to further infection, because they also kill the good bacteria. However, researchers found a way to target the bug that makes us sick through a different treatment.

Dr. David Stewart is the co-author of the study and associate professor of surgery at the University of Arizona, explaining that:

“The challenge with all of the antibiotics we currently use is that they are not organism specific and they cause infections while actually treating them

For example, using antibiotics can cause Clostridium difficile (C. diff) – causing gastrointestinal symptoms (like diarrhea). C. diff is found in the gut, but if the good bacteria that keep it in check get killed, it can get out of control.

Dr. David Stewart and his team found a way to combat the infection using “antisense” therapy. This method will target the genes of the bacteria that make them survive and leaves alone the “good” bacteria.

This means that new smart antibiotics can be created for specific bugs, says D. Stewart.

“If this approach can be developed it allows us a very nimble approach to adjust as the bacteria adjusts. We can keep current with the current forms of the bacteria.”

The team also tested how effective is the drug in killing the C. diff bacteria while monitoring it so that it won’t interfere with the bacterial balance in the gut. The results showed that the drug could minimize the toxicity and disruption of bacteria. However, the new compound has only been tested in the lab. There might be years until it gets tested in clinical trials.

Antisense Therapy Has Great Potential

With the Kingston University, Mark Fielder, a professor of medical microbiology who wasn’t involved in the study, stated that this study has potential, and could also be a stepping stone in future research:

“This is not your normal approach to antimicrobial treatment but it has potential to be an interesting addition to the toolkit. There is potential for looking at similar targets in other organisms to see if a similar approach could be applied.”

Antisense therapy has two advantages: it targets the bacteria and is also cheap to develop, unlike new antibiotics, explains Dr. Stewart:

“Bacteria are smart so there’ll be genetic variants so all that ours requires is resequencing and creating new antisense [molecules]. All you do is develop a different [molecule] which is very cheap and very easy.”

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere