Like weeds in a garden, disease-causing bacteria resist our efforts to stamp them out. Now researchers have a new tool to address the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. The achievement is reported in the May 31 edition of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a peer-reviewed journal of the world’s largest scientific society.
The researchers focused on aminoglycosides, a family of antibiotics that includes drugs such as neomycin, used in common ointments like Neosporin™. This class of antibiotics faces threats from its inherent high toxicity and its susceptibility to chemical modifications that allow bacteria to resist the drug’s effects.
Bacteria, which create the proteins they need to survive, are constantly evolving and mutating in ways that circumvent the activity of antibiotics. To get around this problem, the researchers found a way to bind the antibiotic to the bacteria’s protein-making machinery (called ribonucleic acid, or RNA). This prevents the formation of proteins that allow the bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics, according to Chi-Huey Wong, lead author for research team at the Scripps Research Institute in California.
The approach could yield an antibiotic approximately 1,000 times more effective than the original antibiotic, so a much smaller dose would suffice, Wong said.
“By studying the bacterial genome, we were able to find a way to attack antibiotic resistance,” Wong said. “We used it as a new way to find the secrets of resistance.”
More than 100 antibiotics are currently on the market to fight infections, including those suffered by cancer and AIDS patients, people recovering from surgery and others. They work by preventing the growth of bacteria that lead to infections.
Wong said the researchers worked with aminoglycosides because they function differently than other antibiotics, preventing the formation of proteins that allow bacteria to live, instead of attacking the proteins after they are formed. The same method might be used to develop anticancer and antiviral agents, he added.
Although human testing is expected to begin within six months, any solution to the problem of antibiotic resistance is temporary, Wong said.
“The best we can do is slow down the development of resistance,” Wong said. “It’s just a matter of time with bacteria. It’s simply evolution — bacteria will do anything to survive.”