Home > Health, Medical > Five superbug defenses that can keep you from dying in the hospital

Five superbug defenses that can keep you from dying in the hospital


By Boonsri Dickinson | Dec 22, 2010 | 0 Comments

He may have not realized it, but Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered a mold that could save millions of lives. On 1928, while in his lab, he discovered penicillin. The active ingredient in the mold Penicillium notatum was an infection-fighting agent that could kill colonies of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus.

The pharmaceutical industry began producing antibiotics, drugs that could kill disease-causing bacteria. Bye bye, syphilis? Bye bye, gangrene? Bye bye, tuberculosis? Almost. Doctors started prescribing them (and then over-prescribing them). And we started using them (and abusing them).

However, this spawned another problem. This one possibly was as lethal as the infection itself: resistance and the suberbug. Some experts warn that we are at the end of the antibiotic era.

University of California, Los Angeles professor Brad Spellberg told Newsweek:

“It’s already happening,” says Spellberg, to the tune of roughly 100,000 deaths a year from antibiotic-resistant infections in the United States alone. “But it’s going to become much more common.”

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA is a superbug – when it enters the blood stream and begins to attack the body, the infection can grow so large only surgery can get rid of the drug-resistant bug.

Right now, our best line of defense to kill off the infection is antibiotics. Sometimes, as a last line of defense, doctors prescribe — vancomycin and linezolid. But even those drugs aren’t guaranteed to work.

The MRSA infections are becoming a problem as bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. Just because hospital-acquired MRSA infections have been declining, it doesn’t mean we don’t need more ways to fight the superbug infections.

Superbugs are a huge problem in hospitals, but scientists have been working on a number of ways to combat the spread of the potentially deadly bug.

Here are five technologies that stand a chance against superbugs:

1. Fecal transplants: Any poo will suffice, as long as it is screened for infectious diseases. But siblings make the best donors. Gastroenterologist Thomas Borody’s clinic has performed 1,500 fecal transplants. Restoring the bacterial flora of the colon to the native state can literally stop a potentially deadly Clostridium difficile infection from taking over.

Borody tells New Scientist:

“I got a very bad name among my colleagues, as someone who feeds people shit.”

The donor’s poo is first cleaned with saline and filtered to remove unwanted particles. Then the poo is fed to a patient through a tube goes through the nose and into the stomach. Going from the bottom seems the more natural way. Either way, the transplants help restore populations of Bacteroides, the type of bacteria that is seen in a person with a healthy colon.

Borody asks:

“We have a therapy that is nearly 100 per cent curative. What the hell are we doing spending millions of dollars on antibiotics?”

2. Light technology: Scientists at the University of Strathclyde have shown that special light can make bacteria basically commit cell suicide. Clinical trials proved the HINS-light Environmental Decontamination System is effective in getting rid of bacterial pathogens in the hospital setting. The light prevents the pathogens from being transmitted through the environment – which ultimately prevents the spread of the infection among patients. University of Strathcylde professor John Anderson explains:

“The system works by using a narrow spectrum of visible-light wavelengths to excite molecules contained within bacteria. This in turn produces highly reactive chemical species that are lethal to bacteria such as meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, and Clostridium difficile, known as C.diff.”

3. Anti-pathogenic drugs: Case Western Reserve researchers developed an anti-pathogenic drug to treat MRSA . The drug works by blocking MRSA from producing toxins. This way, you can treat MRSA without actually killing the bacteria.

“Staph bacteria are ubiquitous and normally do not cause infections, however, occasionally these bacteria become harmful due to their secretion of toxins,” said Case Western Reserve’s professor Menachem Shoham. The key was preventing a molecule called AgrA from releasing toxins. The professor looked for compounds to inhibit it, so he screened 90,000 compounds. Seven of those worked.

The anti-pathogenic drugs might change they way we fight bacteria in the body. The way we currently treat the infection makes it a prime place for bacteria to want to fight for survival. The side effect of that is the eventual resistance to the drugs. This new type of drug would sidestep that urge and keep the bacteria at bay.

4. Brains of cockroaches: My first instinct around cockroaches have been to kill them with a paper towel. British researchers discovered that molecules found inside the brain tissues of insects can fended off unwanted bacteria. The brain tissue killed off 90 percent of the E. coli and MRSA. Remarkably, the healthy human cells were left alone.

“We hope that these molecules could eventually be developed into treatments for E. coli and Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections that are increasingly resistant to current drugs,” University of Nottingham’s Simon Lee said in a statement. “Also, these new antibiotics could potentially provide alternatives to currently available drugs that may be effective but have serious and unwanted side effects.”

5. A coating can kill MRSA upon contact: Imagine if surgical equipment or the walls of the hospital could be coated with a paint that could slice up MRSA. The coating has carbon nanotubes with lysostaphin, an enzyme that is found in Staph bacteria that naturally fights off the superbug.

In the lab, when the nanotube-enzyme was mixed with regular household paint, all of the MRSA was eradicated in 20 minutes after it touched the special surface. Don’t worry though, the paint isn’t toxic to other cells – it’s just toxic to MRSA. It probably won’t lead to more resistance and won’t pollute the environment. The coating can be washed without losing its ability to kill MRSA.

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