Quick science lesson: there are two types of bacteria, known as gram-positive and gram-negative, that have different cell wall structures. This has presented issues for those who develop antibiotics, as the two types can mean that medicines which target one are ineffective against the other. What do you do when two kinds of walls won’t let invaders in? Build a double trojan horse, of course, of course. Clever war strategists/scientists attached antibiotics to the molecules that bacteria send out to gather iron. Once those molecules find iron and head home to their bacterium, the cell walls willingly accept the molecule, antibiotic included. But sometimes bacteria can still destroy antibiotics with enzymes, so the “double” part of the analogy kicks in—the act of destroying the first antibiotic releases the second. That’s a pretty hardcore Catch-22.
Here’s the scenario: Scientist A says, “We have to do something about these superbugs before they kill us all!” Scientist B responds, looking up from a Spiderman comic, “Too bad we can’t just design some super-spiders to fight them with.” And that’s where it all started. Australian researcher Sónia Troeira Henriques and her team published a study wherein they redesigned a peptide from a Brazilian spider and found that their work increased the molecule’s antimicrobial and anticancer properties. Innovators have been looking for alternatives to the existing field of antibiotics, which are becoming dangerously ineffective at combating increasingly resistant bacteria. Earlier this year, the WHO released their list of “priority pathogens” that we really need to get some stuff in the pipeline for.
Here at InsightCity we have a saying, “don’t get sick.” Why? Well, aside from medical errors as a leading cause of death in the US, you could pick up antibiotic resistant bacteria while receiving care in a medical environment. There is good news for the ~2 million Americans who catch one of these resistant strains each year (not always at hospitals!). An old antibiotic that’s been around since the 1950s, vancomycin, has been retooled to deliver a trinity of fatal blows to bacteria that have become antibiotic resistant—including strains impervious to the original vancomycin. Each of the three tweaks is capable of bactericide alone, combined it’s one killer antibiotic. Thank you, scientists, Akinori Okano, Nicholas Isley and Dale Boger!
A mistake in mice chow has led to a potential breakthrough in treating Parkinson’s Disease. Marcio Lazzarini was conducting experiments in mice in search of alternative treatments for Parkinson’s by administering 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA)—a neurotoxin that causes dopaminergic neurons to die—when “only two of the 40 mice given 6-OHDA developed symptoms of Parkinsonism, while the rest remained healthy,” said Elaine Del-Bel, one of the study’s authors. Lazzarini realized the mice had been eating food containing doxycycline, a commonly prescribed antibiotic. The group repeated the experiment in a second group of mice delivering doxycycline via peritoneal injection with successful results. It turns out, the antibiotic reduces the toxicity of α-synuclein, a protein that can damage central nervous system cells and cause tremor, stiffness and slow involuntary movements.
If you kiss a frog he might turn into a prince. If you lick a Colorado River toad, you’ll experience a psychedelic high. If you drop a Russian brown frog into a bucket of milk, it will stay fresh without refrigeration. All this, and a source for antibiotics! Now, new research indicates that peptides found in the mucus of certain frogs may be used to kill some influenza viruses. The peptides were collected from the skin secretions of 15 Hydrophylax bahuvistarta frogs and four of the 32 peptides the researchers screened had an impact against the flu virus. One of the four, urumin, was found to be non-toxic to humans and works by directly killing H1 viruses. Take THAT swine flu.
Slight paraphrase, but the point holds. This week, WHO released its rapidly (tragically) expanding list of “super-bugs”—drug-resistant bacteria that have stopped responding to antibiotics. For some context, these strains resulted in more than 50,000 fatalities last year. The older and infirmed are usually at greatest risk, but five-alarm bells are sounding from new findings that pediatric infection has increased sevenfold within the decade. With our last lines of antibiotic defense now losing efficacy, the fix comes down to R&D. However, new antibiotic discoveries are limited after 70 years of research, and…pharma doesn’t get huge ROIs from antibiotic research. But Pharma, hear us at InsightCity—if anyone is saving the day, and all of humanity—it will be you.
The FDA’s annual summary on “antimicrobials sold or distributed for use in food-producing animals” reported a 1 percent rise in sales from 2014 to 2015. Now, if your company produces those antimicrobials, you might be miffed at such a small rise. On the other hand, if you don’t work for one of those companies, that rise is great because… Oh wait, never mind, it sucks more for you. Why? Well, the FDA puts this report out as part of their initiative for food producers to stop using so many antimicrobials, which is important because the CDC attributes 1 in 5 antibiotic resistant infections to germs from food and animals. So until we see a decrease in those sales, continue with your superbug preparations.
Finally, some good news in the fight against antibiotic resistance… even if it’s a bit gross. A study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports found that the milk of the Tasmanian devil is effective in killing antibiotic-resistant MRSA and VRE bacteria. Young devils spend their first few months with incomplete immune systems hanging out in mama’s pouch. You may recognize an animal’s pouch as being slightly more pathogen-infested than your typical cleanroom environment. But it seems that peptides responsible for killing those bacteria are expressed in both the mother’s milk and pouch lining, protecting the joey. So yeah, new biologic sources are great and all, but we’re still a bit off-put by this. Maybe Taz can illustrate our feelings about it best.