4 ways scientists are fighting superbugs

Multidrug resistant infections are on the rise and could kill up to 10 million people a year by 2050, the UN warned in an April 2019 report. In response, researchers are working to develop new treatments for superbugs and improve on existing treatments.

 Four new approaches scientists are exploring to defeat superbugs, according to AAMCNews:

1. Bacteriophages.

These viruses prey on bacteria and can be used as an alternative to antibiotics in curing bacterial infections. The approach was originally used in the 1920s and 1930s but was abandoned after the discovery of penicillin. The use of bacteriophages to fight infection came back into fashion, however, after Steffanie Strathdee, PhD, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of California, San Diego, successfully used phage therapy to cure her husband of a deadly infection.

2. Small Streptomyces molecules.

Two out of every three antibiotics comes from the bacteria Streptomyces and its cousins. Researchers previously thought the bacteria could only produce three or four drug compounds, but advances in genetic sequencing recently revealed Streptomyces has genetic instructions for up to 40 distinct molecules that could potentially produce medicines. Scientists hope to find a way to modify the bacteria so it will make more of these molecules.

3. Traditional medicine.

Some scientists are consulting ancient sources, such as 16th-century Chinese herbal texts, to identify plants with medicinal properties that may help address the superbug crisis. Ethnobotanist Cassandra Quave, PhD, an assistant professor at Emory University, also interviews local healers in remote areas to find plant-based remedies. She and her colleagues study the chemical components and potential bioactivity of these remedies, and they have identified a few that may help stem the damage of multidrug resistant infections.

4. Combining existing drugs.

Scientists are also developing more strategic ways to use drugs that already exist. A team from Emory University School of Medicine has shown many "resistant” infections are only partly resistant: some cells resist antibiotic treatment while others remain susceptible. The key to treating these infections may be combining two or more antibiotics, which increases the odds of killing all the bacteria. 

To read more about these approaches, click here.

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