FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2016

Researchers make major antibiotic-resistant bacteria breakthrough

Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston reported they have made a major breakthrough in understanding how vancomycin-resistant bacteria develop drug resistance to antibiotics.

"Antibiotic resistance is one of the major public health threats of the 21st Century," Cesar Arias, the study's senior author and associate professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the UTHealth Medical School, said. "These superbugs can make antibiotics useless, which makes certain bacterial infections virtually untreatable."

The study was published in a recent issue of mBio and observed how VRE developed a resistance to daptomycin, one of the few, powerful antibiotics known to work against VRE.

VRE is the second most common hospital-associated bacterium in the United States today. Its prevalence has increased eightfold in the past 15 years. The bacterium is known to infect patients already considered critically ill or to have compromised immune systems.

"The importance of this work is that an understanding of 'how' bacteria become resistant can then lead to a search for new antibiotics that target the resistance pathway itself, thus overcoming and preventing resistance," Barbara E. Murray, study co-author and director of the Division of Infectious Diseases, said.

To study the bacterium, researchers used fluorescent labeled daptomycin and observed how VRE cells responded to it. The research team discovered a new mechanism the cells exhibited; a process by which the antibiotic is repelled and trapped in an area of the body where it cannot be effective. The bacterial cell membrane changes during this process. It has given researchers insight into the development of new drugs against VRE and other drug-resistant bacteria.

"This important study is about resistance to the 'last resort' agent, daptomycin, one of the few antibiotics we have to treat multi-drug resistant enterococci, and it builds on Dr. Arias' previous study published in The New England Journal of Medicine," Murray said.