Scientists discovered a new class of antibiotics. After a long period without significant developments, researchers are on the verge of a breakthrough. The findings are published in the Nature journal.
Although antibiotics revolutionized medicine, giving a solution to once deadly infections such as tuberculosis, bacteria started adapting to these substances. Due to this resistance to standard antibiotics, there is always the need to improve these drugs, to develop new substances to which bacteria would be vulnerable…until it once again adapts.
If science can’t keep up, infections once considered minor will no longer be efficiently treated. It would be the 1800s all over again.
But science has an ace up its sleeve, the iChip, a technology that could help develop and study bacteria that is impossible to grow in an artificial habitat.
Antibiotics are made using compounds isolated from soil microorganisms. Only a few types of bacteria can be grown in artificial conditions. Scientists tried to synthetically produce the needed substances found in uncultured bacteria but with limited success.
The iChip is a device with special chambers that gives scientists the possibility of growing these uncultivable microorganisms, permitting them to develop in their natural environment – soil. Professor Kim Lewis from Northeastern University in Boston used this method to examine 10,000 compounds appertaining to uncultured bacteria discovering 25 new antibiotics. According to him, one of the most important compounds discovered is teixobactin.
This substance is considered to have a very promising future due to its effectiveness. It targets 2 elements in the wall of bacterial cells, thus lowering the risk of bacterial resistance.
The device, together with related technology is owned by NovoBiotic Pharmaceuticals, a Massachusetts-based company.
Although the new compound is still in the stage of testing, Professor Lewis considers clinical trials will commence in 2 years.
According to Laura Piddock, professor and microbiologist from the University of Birmingham, if texicobactin passes all tests, it could be used in the future to treat deadly infections such as those caused by MRSA.
Although very potent, teixobactin should not be considered a future universal cure. Gram-negative bacteria such as E. coli are immune to this substance. But scientists will further use the iChip to find the right compounds.
Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh made the following statement in regards to the iChip technology:
“It may be that we will find more antibiotics using these latest techniques. We should certainly be trying – the antibiotic pipeline has been drying up for many years now; we need to open it up again, and develop alternatives to antibiotics at the same time, if we are to avert a public health disaster.”
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