Developing new antibiotics is of high importance to scientists. The WHO has already warned that the rise of antibiotic resistant infections, combined with the lack of new treatments available, could be leading us towards a “global health emergency”. But, a recent development has brought hope that a new type of antibiotic could soon be available.

The new antibiotic, as detailed in a recent study published in Nature, has shown to be effective in fighting drug resistant bacteria including MRSA. The team have shown that their new drug could work safely in living organisms and has been tested on MRSA infected mice. MRSA is responsible for hundreds of thousands of life threatening infections every year, as persistent bacteria infects those in hospitals and intensive care units.

The new antibiotic consists of retinoids. Retinoids have never been used before as they are poisonous to human cells. However, researchers found that they were able to modify them to make them safe in humans.

Professor William Wuest, associate professor of chemistry at the Emory University Antibiotic Resistance Centre and one of the authors of the study said: “The molecule weakens the cell membranes of bacteria, but human cells also have membranes. But we found a way to tweak the molecule so that it now selectively targets bacteria”.

This is exciting news for scientists and medical professionals around the world. Not only could it provide a new treatment for resistant infections, it could also lead to thousands of other compounds, which were previously believed to be too toxic for human use, to be investigated and potential drugs.

This type of antibiotic has shown to be effective in killing dormant “persister” cells, which have become inactive and are resistant to drugs. These resistant infections are particularly dangerous in those with cystic fibrosis or individuals with implanted devices like pacemakers. In these patients, the infections tend to reoccur after treatment, resulting in the need for surgery.

Professor Eleftherios Mylonakis, chief of infectious diseases at Rhode Island Hospital commented that “The results were extremely positive. We are extremely optimistic. This is an emergency, by 2050, superbugs will surpass cancer as the global number one killer. This is a frightening situation. It affects more than individuals in the hospital or the very ill or the very old. It affects everybody.”

Dr Julian Hurdle of the Centre for Infectious and Inflammatory Diseases at Texas A&M University added: “In experiments in mice, [the treatment] remained in circulation in the animals’ bodies for several hours at high enough concentrations to kill MRSA persister cells, but did not give rise to signs of toxicity such as liver or kidney damage. Remarkably, the authors showed in mice it could tackle what would generally be considered to be a treatment-resistant form of MRSA.”


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