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Medicine Science

Sea Sponge Extract Conquers Resistant Bacteria 132

Science News has an article on research into a compound found in a particular kind of sea sponge that seems to have the ability to restore antibiotics' effectiveness against resistant bacteria. The hope is that, since the compound is not itself deadly or even harmful to bacteria, it may skew the antibiotic-bacteria arms race in our favor. "Chemical analyses of the sponge's chemical defense factory pointed to a compound called algeferin. Biofilms, communities of bacteria notoriously resistant to antibiotics, dissolved when treated with fragments of the algeferin molecule. And new biofilms did not form. So far, the algeferin offshoot has, in the lab, successfully treated bacteria that cause whooping cough, ear infections, septicemia and food poisoning. The compound also works on... [MRSA] infections, which wreak havoc in hospitals. 'We have yet to find one that doesn't work,' says [one of the researchers]."
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Sea Sponge Extract Conquers Resistant Bacteria

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  • Salmonella (Score:5, Informative)

    by vuo ( 156163 ) on Sunday February 15, 2009 @05:07PM (#26865441) Homepage
    It would be perfect against salmonella. Salmonella is extremely hazardous to public health, because it can reside dormant in the intestinal biofilm for practically indefinite periods (up to 25 years), and the carrier remains infectious all the time. A single bacterium can cause a potentially fatal illness, so in some jurisdictions, anyone who works with food is tested for salmonella. Unfortunately the only way to positively remove salmonella from a carrier is ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic generally considered an antibiotic of last resort. Its serious, potentially disabling side-effects include permanent damage of peripheral nerves, the intestine and spontaneous tendon rupture. A way to dissolve the bacteria from the biofilm would probably make them easier to eradicate with less dangerous antibiotics.
  • Re:Salmonella (Score:5, Informative)

    by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) * on Sunday February 15, 2009 @05:20PM (#26865515) Homepage

    A way to dissolve the bacteria from the biofilm would probably make them easier to eradicate with less dangerous antibiotics.

    Except for the very likely problem of when you dissolve biofilms, you create Yet Another Problem. OK, so somebody has found a novel compound that screws up bacterial metabolism. Let me, just of a moment, pop into cynic mode:

    We have lots and lots of chemicals, simple and complex, that trash biofilms. And bacteria. Generic bleach at high concentrations comes to mind. Of course, you don't want to stick that in your veins.

    The hard part is coming up with something you can put inside a human being (or test eukaryote of your choice, be it politician, lawyer or c. eleagans) and have it kill the bacteria and not the host.

    /end cynic mode. Carry on.

  • Wrong name (Score:5, Informative)

    by MoellerPlesset2 ( 1419023 ) on Sunday February 15, 2009 @05:27PM (#26865543)
    The compound is called ageliferin.
  • Re:Respect (Score:5, Informative)

    by Puff of Logic ( 895805 ) on Sunday February 15, 2009 @06:35PM (#26865967)
    All true. However the antibiotic usage in humans is vastly outweighed by the antibiotic usage in livestock. One of my med-school courses cited an instance in...Denmark, I believe it was. The annual human consumption of an antibiotic came to something like 25kg that year. Consumption of an analogous antibiotic in livestock for that same year was something on the order of 25,000kg. Over-prescription of antibiotics for CYA or, more commonly, to patients who aren't satisfied until they've receive an antibiotic for their viral (sigh) infection is certainly a problem. Before we get too worked up over that, however, let's stop feeding the drugs to the damned cows, pigs, and chickens!
  • Re:Respect (Score:4, Informative)

    by Niedi ( 1335165 ) on Sunday February 15, 2009 @07:42PM (#26866573)

    Both exist. Bacteria can evade antibiotics in many ways, some active, some passive.

    The easiest way to actively evade antibiotics is by developing efflux pumps which will pump out a certain drug or class of drugs (Tetracycline, beta-lactame).

    The easiest way to passively evade antibiotics is through modification of the drug target which is a rare thing but can happen since bacteria are quite prone to mutations and also multiply like mad.

    The thing that completely stupefies me is how that stuff is supposed to do away with resistances... Maybe it makes them barf their plasmids but still, I have no idea how that is supposed to work. Especially since some plasmids come with their own simple but effective measures against it.
    That option would be pretty easy to verify though.

  • Re:phage medicine. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Guppy ( 12314 ) on Sunday February 15, 2009 @07:49PM (#26866649)

    It's funny that phage medicine has been demostrated to be very effective to treat antibiotic resistant bacteria, yet it's never been adopted in western medicine.

    Well, you have to consider the specific issues surrounding phage therapy as well. Two similar-looking strains of bacteria can have very different phage susceptibility profiles -- an issue similar with antibiotic resistance, but my impression is that a strain match is much more of an issue with phage therapy, as each one is like a extremely "narrow spectrum" antibiotic. This is both good and bad, as it avoids collateral damage to "friendly" bacteria, but requires considerable time and expertise to get the match right -- the expertise needed to effectively implement phage therapy effectively is pretty high.

    In an epidemic, you probably are looking at just one strain of bacteria going around, so is less of a problem (I have heard phage treatment works well versus something like, say, Cholera). However, for general cases, you end up needing to have a large library of phages on-hand (this is probably not an issue for centralized medical systems, but won't work well for an independent family doctor or suburban pharmacy). On the positive side, phages constantly co-evolve with their bacterial hosts, allowing you to overcome resistance by updating your library.

    A "cocktail" would allow you to dispense with needing a large library, or having to get as detailed a susceptibility profile each time. However, there is another problem, that this solution makes worse -- your immune reaction against the phages. Very quickly after your initial encounter with a phage, you will likely develop a response against it (and probably relatives of that phage too). So the long-term practicality of phage treatment is an issue too.

  • Re:phage medicine. (Score:5, Informative)

    by sjames ( 1099 ) on Sunday February 15, 2009 @08:59PM (#26867315) Homepage Journal

    That's my understanding as well. It's typically necessary to culture the patient's infection and then try dozens of bacteriophages against it to find just the right one.

    Still, the technique does seem to have merit and should probably be in use now except that there's no way to monitize it and so it goes unresearched.

  • Re:phage medicine. (Score:3, Informative)

    by trenobus ( 730756 ) on Sunday February 15, 2009 @09:10PM (#26867397)

    Phage therapy involves a lot of labor in isolating a non-symbiotic phage for a particular bacterial strain, and then growing enough of them to give the patient a dose that will not be negated by their immune system. To really be practical, this process would need to be automated.

    Phages are specific, which is a disadvantage economically, as another poster noted. But specificity is an advantage medically, as it means you don't need to wipe out all of the "good bacteria" along with the bad. This is particularly important when the bad bacteria are antibiotic resistant and are in competition with the good bacteria.

    An enlightened society would be developing both antibiotic and phage therapies. But then, an enlightened society would be different from ours in so many ways.

  • by twitter ( 104583 ) * on Monday February 16, 2009 @11:19PM (#26881929) Homepage Journal

    When getting antibiotics, the vast majority of people get either the full course or nothing at all - there's no in-between.

    You seem so sure of this, why? Are you friends with people in Brazil and India? Don't you think it a little strange that people don't finish taking medicine their doctor gave them? A more reasonable explanation for half taken medicine is half full wallets and other things you have no experience of. People can't afford to complete the course or have some awful thing happen that gets in the way. The developing world is where you more often see anti-biotic resistant bacteria emerging, not the first world where animal overuse is happening. Face it, IP laws are what's wrong with the picture.

If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. -- Isaac Newton