An international team of scientists found that arsenic-based antibiotic is a promising solution to superbugs, a rapidly growing threat to public health around the world.
In a newly published paper, they claimed that the arsenic-based antibiotic is very effective against many types of bacteria that affect humans, including E.coli.
"We are running out of tools to fight these diseases. We need a new potent antibiotic to solve this problem," stated Masafumi Yoshinaga, a co-senior author of the study published in the journal Communications Biology. "We showed that this new novel arsenic compound can be a potent antibiotic."
The Superbug Problem
In 2018, the World Health Organization warned about superbugs or antibiotics resistance, which was dubbed as "one of the biggest threats to global health." The announcement was a response to the growing number of infections that are becoming more difficult to treat because bacteria has changed its reaction to antibiotics due to years of misuse.
Antibiotic resistance leads to longer hospital stay, more expensive medical costs, and a higher risk of death.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that at least 2 million people become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year. At least 23,000 people die from it.
Are Arsenic-Based Antibiotics The Answer?
The researchers claimed that the new antibiotic, arsinothricin or AST, has been tested on human blood cells. They reported that it doesn't kill human cells in tissue culture.
Barry P. Rosen, also a senior author of the study, explained that arsenic has a very negative reputation because it is known as a toxin and can be a carcinogen. However, arsenicals have been used as antimicrobials for a long time now.
In 1908, scientist Paul Erlich was awarded the Nobel Prize for developing the arsenic-based cure for syphilis.
Today, Rosen noted that arsenicals are used to treat leukemia.
Moreover, the scientists said that the arsenic-based antibiotics are broad-spectrum, meaning it can fight against multiple types of bacteria. It is also effective against Mycobacterium bovis, a bacteria that causes tuberculosis in cattle. This implies that it can also cure tuberculosis in humans.
"The antibiotic, arsinothricin or AST, is a natural product made by soil bacteria and is effective against many types of bacteria, which is what broad-spectrum means," stated Rosen. "Arsinothricin is the first and only known natural arsenic-containing antibiotic, and we have great hopes for it."
The team is in the process of getting a patent for their discovery. They are also currently in talks with pharmaceutical companies to develop it into a drug.