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New Way to Fight Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

Researchers target human cells instead (December 11)

As more reports paint a grim picture of a “post-antibiotic era” heralded by the rise of drug-resistant bacteria, a new strategy for fighting infection is emerging that targets a patient’s cells rather than those of the invading pathogens. The new technique interferes with the way that the pathogens take over a patient’s cells to cause infection. This approach, published in ACS Chemical Biology, could help address the world’s growing problem of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” the authors say.

Health organizations have warned that unless alternatives to classic antibiotics are developed, even infections from minor scrapes could become deadly. Pharmaceutical companies are working on only a few new antibiotics, and they all take the same approach — attack the bacteria. But resistance is always a possibility.

To get around this, researchers in the Netherlands are looking at how bacteria co-opt the cells they invade for survival. These investigators previously reported that at least one set of host cell proteins, called kinases, can control bacterial growth. They decided to look at another class of proteins, called phosphatases, that act in the opposite way from kinases to see whether inhibiting them would have a similar effect.

In laboratory tests, the researchers identified phosphatases in human cells that are involved in bacterial survival. They also identified small molecules that could stop the phosphatases from working. Those molecules, which could form a new class of antibiotics, successfully stopped Salmonella organisms, their test bacteria, from growing.

Because this approach interferes with the host cell machinery rather than directly attacking the bacteria, the chances that bacteria will develop resistance could be very low, the researchers say. In addition, their research suggests that phosphatases, like kinases, could be general targets for drug development.

Source: ACS; December 11, 2013.

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