Reversing Antibiotic Resistance: Scientists Take a Swing at Superbugs

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Reversing Antibiotic Resistance: Scientists Take a Swing at Superbugs

Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem, causing 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses every year in the U.S. More than 70 hospital-acquired infections are resistant to at least one antibiotic. And coming up with new antibiotics is a difficult process, made worse by the speed at which bacteria are becoming resistant. But scientists aren’t throwing in the towel just yet. In fact, new research may turn the tide on such resistance.

By infecting bacteria with a mutated virus, researchers at Tel Aviv University think they may have a new weapon in the battle against antibiotic resistance. Researchers have found a way to alter bacteria DNA using phages, or mutated viruses, making them more susceptible to the antibiotics used to treat them. This method allows researchers to use already available antibiotics, rather than having to invent new ones.

This particular study worked on an antibiotic-resistant form of e.coli. The research could be particularly helpful in hospitals where resistant bacteria could be treated by spraying surfaces with a phage that could make them more vulnerable.

Another study takes an entirely different tactic at battling antibiotic resistance, using computer programs. The “time machine” software can help reverse resistance by figuring out the genetic steps bacteria go through to gain resistance and then turning back the clock. Using models of genes, researchers looked at which antibiotics encourage bacteria to mutate and therefore, could be linked to resistance.

According to Scientific American:

Barlow’s group is currently setting up an experiment that will simulate the cross-pollination of different bacterial populations, which happens in places such as hospitals where multiple patients are exposed to one another. The same mathematical process they used can also incorporate new mutations and antibiotics found in hospitals—mutations that can apply to many different bacteria, not just E. coli.

“At the heart of what everybody wants to know is how predictable is evolution—and if it’s predictable, can we reverse it?” Robert Beardmore, a mathematical bioscientist at University of Exeter said to Scientific American. “It’s really hard, but you’ve got to try something.”

While the threat of resistance is growing, this new research shows that there is hope. But in the meantime, the overuse of antibiotics in livestock, which accounts for some 70 percent of total antibiotic use in the U.S., needs to be halted. Part of fixing the problem means staving off the use that causes bacteria to find a hole in the armor in the first place. Additionally, overprescribing antibiotics for ailments, like viral infection in which they do not heal, is another important step that needs to be taken first and foremost. Antibiotics are one of the greatest medical inventions known to mankind and the very idea that we would overuse them out of effectiveness is hard to swallow.

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Image of antibiotics from Shuttershock

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