Magazine article Science News

Antibiotics May Become Harder to Resist

Magazine article Science News

Antibiotics May Become Harder to Resist

Article excerpt

Often considered the single most important therapeutic discovery in the history of medicine, antibiotics are increasingly losing their punch. The more widely these wonder drugs are used, the greater the number of bacteria that evolve ways to elude the drugs' lethality, creating a grave global health problem. However, researchers at Wayne State University in Detroit have now developed a pair of novel strategies that may counter this dangerous trend.

"Our goal is to design drugs that retain their potency in the face of increasing use," explains team leader Shahriar Mobashery.

In one set of experiments, his group tackled the growing problem of antibiotic pollution. A person who takes an antibacterial drug excretes much of the dose intact (SN: 3/21/98, p. 187). Contaminating rivers or soil, the persistent drug kills many of the microbes it encounters but leaves behind those that can resist it (SN: 6/5/99, p. 356). Over time, Mobashery says, these surviving bacteria can transmit the resistance-conferring genetic material to both their progeny and neighboring bacteria.

To curb the build-up of such resistance, the scientists are designing antibiotics that self-destruct. A report of their first success is scheduled for publication later this month in the JOURNAL OF MEDICINAL CHEMISTRY.

The scientists attached a light-sensitive component to a cephalosporin antibiotic chosen to represent important characteristics of this class of drugs. Within a few hours of exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays, Mobashery notes, the light-sensitive component falls off. What remains is unstable and quickly breaks apart into pieces having no antibiotic activity.

"We consider this a proof of concept" that self-degrading drugs are possible, the bioorganic chemist says. Other versions of antibiotics on his drawing board include some that would break down at a specific acidity or after remaining wet for a certain period. …

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