Bacterial 'autopsy' could speed antibiotic discovery: study

September 20, 2013 by Amy Norton, Healthday Reporter
Bacterial 'Autopsy' could speed antibiotic discovery: study
Scientists invent faster analysis of chemicals with bacteria-killing abilities; experts stress need for new generation of infection-fighting drugs.

(HealthDay)—Scientists say they've found a quicker way to analyze chemicals with bacteria-killing abilities in an advance they hope will speed the development of new antibiotics.

With bacterial infections becoming increasingly resistant to existing antibiotics, new drug development is crucial, according to Dr. Stuart Levy, president of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics.

"There's a real need for new antibiotics," said Levy, a professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston who was not involved in the new study. There are still questions about the novel testing method described in the study, according to Levy, "but it's a step in the right direction."

The approach, detailed in the Sept. 16-20 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could make it simpler for researchers to figure out how a bacteria-killing chemical works.

That's important because many compounds are capable of knocking off the bugs, but drug developers need to know the "mechanism of action," explained Joseph Pogliano, the senior researcher on the new study and a microbiology professor at the University of California, San Diego.

As it stands, drug companies have a huge number of chemicals they can scour to find ones that kill bacteria. And out of millions of compounds, there maybe tens of thousands that slay the bugs.

"It's actually pretty easy to find compounds that can kill bacteria," Pogliano said.

What's difficult and time-consuming, he added, is analyzing those chemicals' "mechanism of action." Researchers need to know that, in part, so they can narrow the field to compounds that are likely to kill bacteria without hurting patients.

And still another reason, according to Pogliano, relates to the problem of antibiotic resistance. "Bacteria are becoming resistant to the drugs we have," he said, "so we need compounds that work by new mechanisms of action."

The current approach to uncovering mechanism of action involves multiple tests, and can take months, Pogliano said.

The method his team developed takes two hours and works like an "autopsy" of a bacterial cell. The researchers used what's called a high-resolution fluorescence microscope to examine cells killed off by a given antibiotic compound, and then determined the likely cause of death.

"It's one test where we can look at the cells and say they died of this mechanism," Pogliano said. "It's like a pathology report on a (deceased) person."

The findings come at a time when the problem of antibiotic resistance is getting heightened attention. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report Monday saying that more than 2 million Americans fall ill with antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections each year. At least 23,000 of those people die, the agency said.

Experts have long been aware of the threat that antibiotic-resistant infections pose, Levy said. "But the CDC report finally puts some real numbers on it," he added.

Whether this new testing method can speed new drug development—or, ultimately, make a dent in the problem of drug resistance—remains to be seen, according to Levy. It's unclear, for example, what the cost would be, he said.

Pogliano has founded a company, Linnaeus Bioscience, that holds a license to the technology. He said the company is already using the technology to try to find new compounds that kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Another expert not involved in the study said it remains to be seen whether the technology actually does speed new drug development.

"The extent to which it will be useful depends on where the bottleneck in development really is," said Dr. Henry Chambers, chairman of the Antimicrobial Resistance Committee of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

In the real world, the process of screening candidate antibiotics may not be what's causing the big delay, Chambers noted. It could be, for example, more of an "economic problem."

"If drug companies don't want to develop antibiotics because it's not profitable, then this screening approach wouldn't address that," Chambers said.

And regardless of whether and when emerge, everyone agrees that proper use of the drugs will always be key.

According to the CDC, antibiotic overuse and misuse are the biggest factors driving the problem of drug resistance. Up to half of all antibiotic prescriptions are either unnecessary or not the best treatment choice for the patient, the agency said in its report.

"Just inventing new drugs is not going to solve the problem," Chambers said.

CDC officials stressed that antibiotics are not the answer for every ill; they are useless, for example, against viral infections, like the common cold.

Explore further: CDC sounds alarm on antibiotic-resistant bacteria

More information: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on antibiotic resistance.

Related Stories

CDC sounds alarm on antibiotic-resistant bacteria

September 16, 2013
(HealthDay)—More than 2 million people come down with infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year in the United States, leading to at least 23,000 deaths, according to a report released Monday by federal health ...

When prescribing antibiotics, doctors most often choose strongest types of drugs

August 1, 2013
When U.S. physicians prescribe antibiotics, more than 60 percent of the time they choose some of the strongest types of antibiotics, referred to as "broad spectrum," which are capable of killing multiple kinds of bacteria, ...

Report says drug-resistant bacteria are common killers

September 17, 2013
For the first time, the U.S. government is estimating how many people die from drug-resistant bacteria each year—more than 23,000, or about as many as those killed annually by flu.

Antibiotic resistance among hospital-acquired infections is much greater than prior CDC estimates

August 1, 2013
The rise of antibiotic resistance among hospital-acquired infections is greater than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found in its 2008 analysis, according to an ahead-of-print article in the journal, ...

Recommended for you

More surprises about blood development—and a possible lead for making lymphocytes

January 22, 2018
Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) have long been regarded as the granddaddy of all blood cells. After we are born, these multipotent cells give rise to all our cell lineages: lymphoid, myeloid and erythroid cells. Hematologists ...

How metal scaffolds enhance the bone healing process

January 22, 2018
A new study shows how mechanically optimized constructs known as titanium-mesh scaffolds can optimize bone regeneration. The induction of bone regeneration is of importance when treating large bone defects. As demonstrated ...

Bioengineered soft microfibers improve T-cell production

January 18, 2018
T cells play a key role in the body's immune response against pathogens. As a new class of therapeutic approaches, T cells are being harnessed to fight cancer, promising more precise, longer-lasting mitigation than traditional, ...

Weight flux alters molecular profile, study finds

January 17, 2018
The human body undergoes dramatic changes during even short periods of weight gain and loss, according to a study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Secrets of longevity protein revealed in new study

January 17, 2018
Named after the Greek goddess who spun the thread of life, Klotho proteins play an important role in the regulation of longevity and metabolism. In a recent Yale-led study, researchers revealed the three-dimensional structure ...

The HLF gene protects blood stem cells by maintaining them in a resting state

January 17, 2018
The HLF gene is necessary for maintaining blood stem cells in a resting state, which is crucial for ensuring normal blood production. This has been shown by a new research study from Lund University in Sweden published in ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.