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Modified Antibiotics Offer Hope Against Superbugs As Multidrug-Resistant Infections Emerge

31 May 2017, 12:03 pm EDT By Allan Adamson Tech Times
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Despite that a growing number of infections now develop resistance to currently available drugs, including last-resort antibiotics, scientists have found that some existing drugs can be modified to remain effective.

Scientists said that they have modified decades-old antibiotic vancomycin to make the drug more potent against resistant bacteria.

Waning Usefulness Of Vancomycin

Since it was introduced in the late 1950s, the drug has been an invaluable tool in the field of medicine with its ability to fight a range of bacteria, which include the potentially fatal methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Over the years though, resistance emerged and the usefulness of vancomycin has waned.

By giving the antibiotic three modifications, Dale Boger of The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and colleagues said that they were able to increase the activity of the drug by 1,000 times, which means that much less of this drug is needed to fight infection.

They said that health providers can also use the upgraded form of the drug sans fearing the emergence of resistance. In experiments, the modified drug killed samples of vancomycin-resistant enterococci or VRE and retained almost its full potency after 50 rounds of exposure to the bacterium.

"We made one change to the molecule vancomycin that overcomes what is the present resistance to vancomycin. And then we added to the molecule, two small changes that built into the molecule, two additional ways in which it can kill bacteria," Boger said. "Resistance to such an antibiotic would be very difficult to emerge. So it's a molecule designed specifically to address the emergence of resistance."

Boger and colleagues reported their findings in PNAS.

Modifying Currently Used Drugs

Health experts are concerned over the threats posed by superbugs that can mutate and resist antibiotics but the findings show promise that currently used drugs can be modified to be effective at fighting resistant infections.

"The goal of researchers and the pharmaceutical industry has been to stay ahead in this biological arms race by developing new agents and modifying old ones," said Michael Grosso, medical director of Huntington Hospital in New York.

Multidrug-Resistant Infections

Supercharging currently available drugs may prove crucial amid emergence and growing cases of multidrug-resistant infections.

Last year, a woman in Nevada, who traveled to India, died from a superbug infection that was resistant to 26 antibiotics. Doctors said that the case, which involved a highly resistant form of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) bacteria, shows how patients treated in overseas hospitals may get infected by dangerous superbugs.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported of an emerging and multidrug resistant fungus, Candida auris, which has grown in number from just seven to 122 over a period of just nine months.

Paige Armstrong, CDC's epidemic intelligence service officer, said that there are outbreaks of this fungus in healthcare facilities worldwide.

"We don't think it's necessarily spreading around the world, so to speak, but at the same time, when it does emerge somewhere, there's obviously concern that it will spread within the health care facilities or person to person," Armstrong said.

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