Ever since the development of penicillin almost 90 years ago, antibiotics have remained the gold standard in the treatment of bacterial infections. However, the WHO has repeatedly warned of a growing emergence of bacteria that develop antibiotic resistance. Once antibiotics do no longer protect from bacterial infection, a mere pneumonia might be fatal.
Alternative therapeutic concepts which lead to the elimination of bacteria, but do not promote resistance are still lacking.
A team of international scientists has tested a novel substance, which has been developed by Eduard Babiychuk and Annette Draeger from the Institute of Anatomy, University of Bern in Switzerland. This compound constitutes a novel approach for the treatment of bacterial infections: the scientists engineered artificial nanoparticles made of lipids, “liposomes” that closely resemble the membrane of host cells. These liposomes act as decoys for bacterial toxins and so are able to sequester and neutralize them. Without toxins, the bacteria are rendered defenseless and can be eliminated by the cells of the host’s own immune system. The study will be published in Nature Biotechnology Nov 2.
Artificial bait for bacterial toxins
In clinical medicine, liposomes are used to deliver specific medication into the body of patients. Here, the Bernese scientists have created liposomes which attract bacterial toxins and so protect host cells from a dangerous toxin attack.
“We have made an irresistible bait for bacterial toxins. The toxins are fatally attracted to the liposomes, and once they are attached, they can be eliminated easily without danger for the host cells”, says Eduard Babiychuk who directed the study.
“Since the bacteria are not targeted directly, the liposomes do not promote the development of bacterial resistance“, adds Annette Draeger. Mice which were treated with the liposomes after experimental, fatal septicemia survived without additional antibiotic therapy.
Revolutionary New Antibiotic Alternative Could Save the World From Superbug ‘Apocalypse’
” The new drug could be used to treat MRSA infections, and the technology will be made freely available around the world for research purposes, the team behind the development said. WHO statistics show that 50,000 people in Europe and America die of multi-drug resistant bacteria each year. The drug, an endolysin called Staphefekt, has been found to kill the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus in its normal and drug resistant-forms (MRSA). It has already been used in creams to treat 10,000 people with skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis, with a satisfaction rate of 80%. Now scientists say it can also be used in the medical world to treat a super-resistant strain of bacteria. When tested on a sample of patients in the laboratory, the drug was found to completely eradicate the bacteria from infections without leading to resistance and leaving other beneficial bacteria unaffected. “The sooner this technology becomes the new standard—especially in topical applications—the better it is,” Offerhaus told Newsweek. “This can also alleviate the resistance pressure on existing antibiotics, helping us preserve these for when we really need them. But let’s not forget that each bacterial species also requires its own targeted solution, so we should not see this as a panacea for bacterial infections.” MRSA, an acronym for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is the most deadly strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, causing around 5,000 deaths in England each year. But it is just one strain in a growing pool, including resistant strains of gonorrhea, tuberculosis, E.coli and salmonella. These strains of bacteria have evolved to become completely impenetrable by modern medicine. Until now. The studies, presented Wednesday at the London conference Antibiotic Alternatives for the New Millennium, showed how the new drug killed bacteria in a completely different way from antibiotics, enabling it to bypass the problem of antibiotic-resistant strains. The drug is based on a naturally occurring enzyme produced by microorganisms in the body, known as bacteriophages, that specifically target and kill bacteria. Bacteriophages do this by cutting through the bacteria cell wall, killing it in the process. Unlike antibiotics, which reach inside the cell to work, Staphefekt targets a specific region of the cell wall that is less susceptible to mutation, significantly reducing the likelihood of resistant strains developing. Dr Bjorn Herpers, a clinical microbiologist who tested the drug at the Public Health Laboratory in Kennemerland, told Newsweek: “We have tried to induce resistance in clinical strains. What we see happening is resistance developing in the antibiotics, but not the drug.” Furthermore, because the drug targets more than one part of the bacteria cell wall, in order for resistance to occur, “there would have to be many very unlikely changes occurring at the same time,” Herpers said. When asked whether the new endolysin technology could be used to treat other super-resistant strains of bacteria, Offerhaus told Newsweek, “Absolutely. We’ve started clinical trials and will be looking to collaborate with research groups around the world to explore the additional possibilities with this new technology. In fact, as a contribution in the fight against antibiotic resistant bacteria, Micreos has decided to make Staphefekt available for free for research purposes, in a kind of ‘open source’ setting.” Endolysin technology is already being used to develop a potential new drug for Clostridium difficile infection, antibiotic-induced diarrhea.”
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