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Biotech Science

Potential Cure For Antibiotic Resistant Infections 127

Posted by kdawson
from the early-days-but-promising dept.
kpw10 writes to let us know about research to be published this week that offers hope in the battle against multi-drug-resistant bacteria. "Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have discovered that two drugs used to treat bone loss in old folks can both kill and short-circuit the 'sex life' of antibiotic-resistant bacteria blamed for nearly 100,000 hospital deaths across the country each year."
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Potential Cure For Antibiotic Resistant Infections

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  • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:02PM (#19818871)
    what happens when the bugs become resistant to these two drugs as well?
  • by TheMohel (143568) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:13PM (#19819031) Homepage
    I'm a skeptic about a lot of things in medicine (I live in that world), especially "wonder drugs", and the writer of TFA demonstrates his limited skills in microbiology enough to make me cringe. But the science here is going to be fun to see.

    Don't get me wrong - we need to know the doses, the regimen, the side effects at antimicrobial dosing, and all the rest of the nuts-and-bolts pharmacology. On the other hand, the putative mechanism, which is to interfere with sharing of genes between bacteria, is in itself ground-breaking. Used properly (that is, not overused and used with care), this could prevent rapid resistance emergence in bacteria where the treatment itself takes weeks to months (osteomyelitis, for example, or infection with certain stubborn bugs). These drugs (etidronate and pamidronate) have their own not-insignificant side effect profile, of course, and there are no guarantees at this stage.

    I'll be interested in the actual research, because TFA is filtered through a layer of ignorance and sensationalism, but it sounds interesting.
  • by mooingyak (720677) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:17PM (#19819079)
    ... except for that fraction of a percent that's immune to the drug and can breed anyway, and then we start all over again.
  • by Moraelin (679338) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @07:05PM (#19819585) Journal
    Now I'm not a doctor, but it seems to me that (as is usually the case) it's not that simple. Among the things that come to mind:

    1. Drug resistant bacteria aren't as much caused by taking too many antibiotics, but by taking too little of an antibiotic. People take the antibiotic for 2-3 days, then they feel better, and figure out "why bother taking the rest?" Or they take an antibiotic, it makes them feel worse, skip the rest of the treatment because they know better than the doctor. Etc.

    Problem is, they have a shitload of bacteria left at that point.

    Will someone decide to skip their bone loss drugs too? Probably, but I'd assume somewhat fewer.

    2. The fact that it's already widely used to treat bone loss, should probably tell us that if it was that easy to develop resistance to it, it would have happened already. Not saying it's impossible to, but it might just take a lot more time.

    3. The relatively fast development of resistance is massively aided by the fact that bacteria can exchange genes. (Hence the jab about inhibiting their sex life.) So basically once one develops resistance, it can pass that around.

    Something that attacks that very mechanism, might slow down the rate of developing and spreading resistance a lot.
  • 100K deaths (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anomalyst (742352) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @07:46PM (#19819921)
    100K deaths per year, thats more than an order of magnitude than the number of deaths attributed to terrorism in the last decade. Why are they telling us terrorists are dangerous? Imagine the lives saved if we poured half a trillion dollars to combat this, plus no armed forces casualties and no need to tap our phones or sniff our internet traffic.
  • Yes, why would there be a lot of deaths in the place all the really sick people go to? Anything so obvious must be an evil plot.
  • by DrBuzzo (913503) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @08:19PM (#19820181) Homepage
    I'm glad to hear that there is a new avenue, but as stated, there's no certainty that resistance couldn't be acquired to these drugs. Right now, bacterial infections that are resistant to multiple kinds of antibiotics are still a small portion of infections in general, and new antibiotics help too.

    But ultimately the best way to prevent this is for people NOT to insist on being given antibiotics for infections that are probably viral, for people to not stop taking their antibiotics when the symptoms are gone, even if their prescription calls for more and to NEVER take antibiotics you happen to have without confirming with a doctor that you need them.

    This is how this happens.. the infection is not wiped out entirely and thus some bacteria survive, even survive the body's immune system. Antibiotics are truely one of the the closest things to miraculous which medicine has. An infection that would kill you will go away with a few pills. DON'T GO AND RUIN THAT! Or you will end up dying anyway, because I will come and kill you! Seriously... stop that BS and we'll at least severely slow down the evolution of drug resistant bacteria
  • by poopdeville (841677) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @08:29PM (#19820237)
    More-or-less. There are certainly variations, but there might be critical points in the process that are the same across all bacteria. If a drug targets those, we win. Evolution could help bacteria survive, but there wouldn't be any evolutionary pressure to change this aspect of bacterial reproduction outside exposure to the antibiotic.

    An analogy might be something like VX nerve gas and human evolution. We might some day evolve so that VX nerve gas won't affect our nervous systems, but it won't be through exposure to VX, since we basically die instantly if we're exposed. On the other hand, it seems unlikely that we would evolve that way.
  • by a-zarkon! (1030790) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @08:39PM (#19820309)
    To add on to point 1 above: Any evidence or anecdotes regarding people who can't afford a full course of antibiotics or who complete a course of antibiotic xxx but find themselves still sick and can't pay for a second round with antibiotic yyy? Looking at the prices of prescriptions (even the copay on some of this stuff with insurance) I can easily see where there could be tough decisions for low/fixed income types.
  • by the_humeister (922869) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @09:46PM (#19820803)
    As a doctor, I want links to studies, good studies, not just anecdotal evidence.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @10:11PM (#19820985)

    the problem started in the first place.
    Depends on which problem "the problem" is. If the FDA continues to approve the most powerful antibiotics known to man to cows in order to keep their diseased, scraggly bodies alive long enough to pass an inspection and become your dinner, then when you get infected by e.coli from these beasts, there simply will not be a treatment, you will die.
  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @10:22PM (#19821037) Homepage

    1. Drug resistant bacteria aren't as much caused by taking too many antibiotics, but by taking too little of an antibiotic. People take the antibiotic for 2-3 days, then they feel better, and figure out "why bother taking the rest?" Or they take an antibiotic, it makes them feel worse, skip the rest of the treatment because they know better than the doctor. Etc.

    That's part of the problem, the bigger problem is that there are too many antibiotics being used for essentially superfluous indications such as when used in cattle feed and for clearly viral infections. In fact, the data on exactly how long one should be on antibiotics for a given infection is pretty sparse. Remember that the host immune system is playing an active role in clearing the infection - it's not just the antibiotic, and once you gain the upper hand, it's bye-bye bug.

    1. Drug resistant bacteria aren't as much caused by taking too many antibiotics, but by taking too little of an antibiotic. People take the antibiotic for 2-3 days, then they feel better, and figure out "why bother taking the rest?" Or they take an antibiotic, it makes them feel worse, skip the rest of the treatment because they know better than the doctor. Etc.

    Now this is interesting because you're correct - At least one of the drugs has been marketed for several years. If they prevented antibiotic resistance, it should be possible to see this given enough patients and time. The problem is that we don't have any way to really track this on a grand scale. It may be possible for organizations like Kaiser Permanente, who can track drug use and outcome data, to see this. It may also be the case that this is yet another Test Tube Marvel that has little applicability to the real world.

    3. The relatively fast development of resistance is massively aided by the fact that bacteria can exchange genes. (Hence the jab about inhibiting their sex life.) So basically once one develops resistance, it can pass that around.

    As far as I can tell from the terribly written summary, that's what the drugs do - prevent plasmid reproduction. The problem here is that there are several mechanisms for plasmid / gene transfer among the various species of bacteria. There may be mechanisms that are not susceptible to these drugs.

  • by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @10:41PM (#19821167) Journal

    Yes, why would there be a lot of deaths in the place all the really sick people go to?
    OP is referring to cause of death, not location at time of death. Far more than 250,000 people die in hospitals each year.

    It is fact that some avoidable deaths are caused by healthcare practitioners, though efforts are made to minimize this. Unfortunately, the US does pretty poorly in this regard, in comparison to other nations with "1st world" healthcare systems.

    I don't agree with the OP that doctors are to be avoided -- but I do believe that patients should educate themselves and question the actions of their doctors, particularly wrt prescriptions. There's a reason pharmacists, and not doctors, are the most trusted professionals in the US.

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