A Molecule That Can Help Antibiotics Kill Superbugs

By Veronique Greenwood | February 17, 2012 8:26 am

K. pneumoniae

Bacteria that have evolved defenses against antibiotics are something of a disaster waiting to happen. Whenever a new drug-resistant strain, or a gene that confers resistance, crops up in a new place—as when the NDM-1 gene, which confers resistant to up to 14 drugs, showed up in drinking water in New Delhi—it’s another nail in coffin of a world in which we can heal nearly everything. Scientists are looking into how to get around that resistance, though, and there are some hopeful headlines now and then, including a recent study from researchers at North Carolina State University in which they identified a molecule that can boost the efficacy of two antibiotics against bacteria 16-fold.

The molecule, which the researchers found by testing about 50 candidates to see if they could reduce the number of NDM-1-carrying K. pneumoniae by a significant amount, doesn’t have any antimicrobial properties of its own. It’s an adjuvant, which means it has to be applied in tandem with another drug to have any effect—in this case, the antibiotics carbapenem and cephalosporin. The researchers checked a couple of different ways that it could be working, and found that it was making bacterial membranes easier for the drug to get through, but not enough to account for all of its surprising strength: it lowered by 16 times the amount of antibiotic required to knock the bacteria on their behinds. That’s handy, because taking massive amounts of antibiotics—enough to overwhelm the defenses of resistant bacteria—can be hazardous to your health, and if adding in this adjuvant tips the scales so that safe amounts can knock out infections, that’s pretty neat.

As an antibiotic sidekick, it’s definitely still on the mysterious side. But the team writes that they are looking further into its mechanism, so stay tuned.

Image courtesy of Muriel Gottrop / Wikimedia Commons

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Mike

    Green Tea has also been found to make them 3 times more effective.

  • http://www.facebook.com/#!/rpetrus1 Richard Petrus

    Fascinating feature. In the field of infectious disease research, the development of innovative therapeutics that challenge the current treatment paradigm is not solely an option, but an unwavering necessity as pathogens constantly adapt and acquire properties of resistance at a speed that rivals the rate at which medical models are produced to fight these very same pathogens.

    The concept of an adjuvant which renders bacterial membranes more easily permeable to antibiotics is certainly a strong step in the right direction, yet the bacterial genes which confer resistance would still continue to be expressed. I wait eagerly for the day in which a study is published which describes a new adjuvant which directly suppresses expression of the resistance genes so that they will be rendered vulnerable to traditional antibiotic treatment. Excellent article, this research is certainly one step closer towards making anxiety concerning superbug infections-and their debilitating effects-a thing of the past!

  • daddyvortex

    OK, if you’d like this adjuvant/antibiotic therapy to be effective more than a few years, strict controls will have to be placed on its use. Somehow, we will have to get world-wide compliance. Good luck with that.

  • Richard Petrus

    Precisely, that’s the reason why a therapeutic model needs to be developed which prevents the bacteria from expressing antibiotic resistance genes, rather than simply allow permeation of the membrane while permitting the bacteria to synthesize proteins which confer resistance to antibiotics.

    A better option would be to utilize a drug delivery method to introduce siRNA into infected cells in order to silence the expression of the antibiotic resistance genes of the bacteria, via RNA interference (essentially gene therapy). The idea is to sequence the precise genes of the bacteria which confer resistance, then engineer siRNA molecules which correspond to these resistance genes, treat infected cells (or bacterial colonies themselves) with the siRNA invitro, and then run a Northern blot to examine the change in RNA levels of the genes which confer resistance as compared to untreated cells.

  • Geack

    @daddyvortex 3.
    Actually, controlling something like this wouldn’t be that tough. Its use could be restricted to known cases of otherwise resistant bacteria. Plus, a huge chunk of the overuse problem comes from feeding antibiotics to cattle; since this use doesn’t involve actually treating any disease, the adjuvant wouldn’t likely be used in that setting.


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