“Antibiotic resistance” is a term that is causing fear and concern even to healthy people who have no professional relation to medicine. It describes a state that bacteria or other types of harmful microorganisms reach during which all the well known antibiotics cannot stop them, so they end up killing the patient in most cases.
This entire situation that medicine is facing is something that science predicted a long time ago, simply because all living organisms evolve and, at some point, acquire the ability to survive attacks on them. They can even pass this ability to their offspring, creating a new generation that is immune to existing antibiotics.
Our “war” against antibiotic resistant bugs is one we are losing since many new resistant bugs seem to be appearing at an alarming rate. However, science may have finally invented a way to make superbugs vulnerable again to the drugs that were once effective.
A team of researchers based in the Oregon State University has managed to reveal the “detail” that makes bacteria immune to antibiotics. It is an enzyme that has been given the name New Delhi Metallo-beta-Iactamase 1 (NDM-1). It is disheartening to discover that a single enzyme can overcome our best efforts in developing effective drugs, but fortunately, the same team has come up with a way to block its operation.
This new “weapon” is called PPMO, an acronym for Peptide-conjugated Phosphorodiamidate Morpholino Oligomer. Some people may argue that this is not something new since there are natural PPMOs that have been tested in the past. However, they were only efficient on one bacteria type. Hence, there was the need to improve their “strength”. This is why the new PPMO was created in the lab.
So far, it has been tested in three separate occasions, against three different types of bacteria, all of which are resistant to carbapenems, a group of penicillin-based antibiotics that were our effective treatment option until some bugs managed to become immune to them as well.
When the new PPMO was used on lab mice, in combination with a specific carbanapem known as meropenem, it managed to remove the antibiotic resistance of an E.coli strain that was immune to meropenem and allow the latter to neutralize the infection.
Even though results on mice do not automatically translate to success in humans as well, it is definitely a huge step forward towards solving an enormous problem that has already started taking lives in various parts of the world. This is one of the many reasons that scientific research has to be supported and funded adequately by every government of every country around the world. It is one of the parts of progress that can literally save our lives.